SEWARD, Neb. – After struggling with turnovers in two of their first three losses, the Bulldogs flipped the script on Saturday in a 52-12 thrashing of visiting Dordt College (0-4, 0-3 GPAC). Concordia (1-3, 1-2 GPAC) took advantage of five Defender first-half turnovers and exploded for a 31-point second quarter that all but decided the contest.
“It was a good effort from our guys,” head coach Vance Winter said. “I thought we played for 60 minutes and took care of the little things that have been hurting us the past few games. We came out and we executed well I thought in all three phases.”
Junior cornerback Derek Blessing, who leads the NAIA with an average of 28.0 yards per punt return, continued his mockery of opposing coverage units. With just over three minutes remaining in the first half, Dordt kicked it deep to Blessing who caught the ball at his own 29. He raced straight up the middle and appeared to be stopped at the Dordt 40 before trucking over a would-be tackler and sprinting to the end zone for a 71-yard touchdown return.
“Every time I get the ball I just see what my other guys are doing,” Blessing said. “Without the other 10 guys on the team I wouldn’t be able to do that. They’re getting blocks for me. They’re making plays and it makes me look good. I just want to give a shout out to those guys.”
The electrifying Blessing boosted Concordia’s lead to 35-0, appearing to cap the team’s scoring in a brilliant first half. But Dordt’s Bryce Rusler threw his third interception of the game, plucked by freshman Tait Sibbel, to set up senior kicker Kenny Zoeller’s 30-yard field goal as the first half expired.
The Bulldog scoring binge got started early in the first quarter when Concordia quickly took advantage of a Defender miscue. Blessing began his terrific game with an interception that he returned 52 yards to the Dordt 20-yard line on the Defenders’ opening possession. Sophomore quarterback Von Thomas then found Noah Smith, who caught the pass over the middle and angled into the end zone from 20 yards out for the game’s first score.
The onslaught picked back up in the second quarter when Smith caught a 12-yard touchdown toss from Thomas to cap a 16-play 74-yard drive that ate 5:28 off the clock. Garrett Folchert immediately took advantage of the look he got from the Dordt defense and took the snap across the goal line for the two-point conversion and a 15-0 lead.
Zoeller responded with his first and second field goals of the game to extend the Concordia lead to 21-0 with 7:48 left in the half. The Spring, Texas, native improved to 10-for-10 on field goal tries with his performance on Saturday. He currently leads the NAIA with those 10 field goal makes.
The Bulldogs forced another turnover midway through the second quarter when Sibbel recovered Kyle Henricks’ fumble at the Dordt 44-yard line. Concordia cashed in with Victor Brown’s first career touchdown, a 15-yard rumble that made the score 28-0 with 4:37 left in the half and finished a five-play drive.
After Henricks scampered into the end zone from four yards out on Dordt’s opening possession of the second half, Thomas answered with his third and final touchdown pass, a 12-yard strike to Zach Warner to extend the lead back to 45-6 with 5:47 left in the third quarter.
Trai Pickney added a one-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter prior to Concordia’s final touchdown. Justin Haun, who relieved Thomas at quarterback, fired a 17-yard touchdown pass to Josh Slechta to provide the final margin, 52-12.
The 52-point effort marked the Bulldogs’ first 50-point output since Sept. 28, 2004, when Concordia defeated Dakota Wesleyan 55-13.
Saturday’s performance was by far the team’s most efficient after losses by eight points or less in each of Concordia’s first three games.
“I think came out and we all played hard,” Blessing said. “We knew what our focus was and what we had to do. We just came out and executed today.”
Blessing finished his day with two interceptions to aid a Bulldog squad that went from minus-five in turnovers in last week’s 34-26 loss to plus-four against Dordt.
Thomas ended up 14-for-23 passing with 164 yards and three touchdowns. Smith had four catches for 58 yards and two touchdowns and both Brown and Aaron Gillory added 49 yards on the ground as Concordia outgained the Defenders 361-245.
Dordt, which remains winless on the season, was led by the 55 rushing yards of Pickney. The Defenders also got 12 total tackles and two forced fumbles from Ray Cleveland.
The Bulldogs break away from GPAC play next week and travel to Dakota State for a 4 p.m. matchup in Madison, S.D. Concordia defeated Dakota State 49-21 on Oct. 1 of last year.