SIOUX CITY, Iowa – Top-ranked Morningside cruised to wins by 40 points or more in each of its first seven games, but the Mustangs had to sweat a bit more on Saturday. The Concordia University football team drove 76 yards for a touchdown on the game’s opening possession before the Morningside offensive locomotive churned out another 44 points in a 44-21 victory for the Mustangs inside Elwood Olsen Stadium.
The loss was the fourth straight for the Bulldogs, who fell to 3-6 overall and 2-5 in GPAC action.
“The fact is that Morningside is the No. 1 team in the nation for a reason,” head coach Vance Winter said. “They’re a really good team. I think they knew they were in a game today. That was nice to see. I thought our guys really competed well, we just didn’t make as many plays as they did.”
In place of senior Von Thomas (out with an injury), redshirt freshman quarterback TJ Austin made his first career start and led Concordia on an eight-play, 76-yard touchdown drive to open the game. Austin completed 3 of 4 passes for 46 yards on the possession that ended with Bryce Collins’ 18-yard touchdown run.
“It was really a great first drive,” head coach Vance Winter said. “I thought TJ handled himself well. He played with great poise and made good decisions throughout the football game. That was a great start. He showed some really positive things.”
After the Mustangs ran off the next 14 points, the Bulldogs pulled even early in the second quarter on Austin’s 22-yard touchdown toss to freshman Logan Otte. It was the first career scoring toss for Austin, a native of Angleton, Texas.
But the Bulldog defense simply could not keep the nation’s leader rusher, Brandon Wegher, under wraps. Wegher found the end zone five times on the afternoon and piled up 258 yards on the ground. Wegher ran for touchdowns of one, 44, 34, 13 and 83 yards as Morningside racked up 525 yards to Concordia’s 360.
Getting a glimpse at its possible 2015 starting quarterback, Concordia saw Austin finish 11-for-29 passing for 180 yards. The numbers would have been more impressive had it not been for several dropped passes. Austin also ran for 41 yards on 12 attempts.
Austin had powerful sophomore Bryce Collins to lean upon in the running game. The native of Boerne, Texas, eclipsed the 100-yard barrier for the fifth time this season. He toted the rock 23 times for 123 yards and two touchdowns against a stout Mustang defense that entered the game ranked No. 1 nationally in scoring.
“Bryce is an outstanding back,” Winter said. “He played a great football game. He’s as good as anybody. I was proud of how all our guys kept fighting and competing.”
Otte caught four passes for 102 yards for his second 100-yard receiving game of the season. He hauled in a 48-yard pass that set up Collins’ one-yard touchdown run that got the Bulldogs within 16, 37-21, with 2:43 left in the third quarter.
While Morningside ended up winning comfortably, its 44 points and 525 total yards were both season lows. Patrick Daberkow’s defense also forced four Mustang punts and picked off prolific quarterback Ryan Kasdorf three times.
“I was really proud of the way our defense played all game,” Winter said. “Brandon Wegher is the best football player we’ve went against. He’s the best football player I’ve seen in a long time in terms of our league. He made some great plays and great runs.
“I think he also knew he was in a football game, and I don’t think that’s been the case all season for Morningside. Our guys really competed very hard and made some great plays.”
The defensive effort was led junior safety Tait Sibbel, who made 10 tackles and picked off a pass. Freshman cornerback Tarence Roby and sophomore linebacker Michael Hedlund both came up with their fourth interceptions of the season. Hedlund’s pick came right at the end of the first half with Morningside in the red zone.
The Bulldogs return home next Saturday to host No.19 Dakota Wesleyan (6-3, 4-3 GPAC) for senior day. Kickoff is slated for 1 p.m. from Bulldog Stadium. The day will also feature a fundraiser for five-year-old Parker Chipman, a family friend of Concordia junior long snapper Seth Schlenger. Parker was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in August. The Bulldogs will be selling T-shirts to raise profits for Parker. More details will be posted on the web early next week.