SEWARD, Neb. – Last week the Bulldog defense had its ego bruised. This week it earned its mojo back. Led by a defense that held Midland to 23 measly first-half yards, the Concordia University football team remained unbeaten at home with a 20-14 victory over an upbeat and 22nd-ranked Midland program on a sun-soaked Saturday afternoon.
Eighth-year head coach Vance Winter’s squad is now 4-0 inside Bulldog Stadium and one win away from completing the first undefeated home season since 2000. Concordia improved to 5-3 overall and 3-3 in conference play while clinching at least a .500 record for the year.
“I thought we had a great week of practice,” Winter said. “You go through a phase where you feel sorry for yourself. These guys responded. We knew how we could finish the season and how we can play. We play really well here. I thought we played a good football game today. We made mistakes, but in terms of physicality and covering people, everything was back to what we are used to.”
Midland (6-3, 3-3 GPAC), which entered the game averaging 441.4 total yards per game, failed to penetrate Bulldog territory until the latter stages of the second quarter. All-American Trey Barnes and company were determined to put behind last week’s performance that resulted in 537 yards of offense for Dakota Wesleyan. Barnes recorded two of Concordia’s four sacks on the day.
With Midland down 20-7 and trying to stage a miraculous late rally, Dylan Pierquin and Patrick Skwara surfaced with back-to-back sacks to force a turnover on downs in the final minutes of the game. It was the type of dominant performance that the Bulldog defensive unit has come to expect of itself.
“I feel like we owned them up front,” said senior defensive lineman Ron Jackson, a Houston, Texas, native. “They couldn’t get any push. They couldn’t get a seal. We have guys like Trey Barnes and Rufus Williams. They don’t back down from a challenge. We just shut them down.”
Before leaving the game with an injury, running back Bryce Collins put Concordia on top with a four-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, capping an 11-play, 48-yard drive. The ensuing kickoff was coughed up by Rodney Rosier and the Bulldogs recovered the ball after it was jarred loose by Sebastian Garces and recovered by kicker Brendan Cremin.
Concordia waited until its next possession to extend the lead. Two players after a 38-yard punt return by Jared Garcia, Riley Wiltfong fired a 26-yard strike over the middle to Kiyoshi Brey for six. Though Concordia missed on some chances to put points on the board, it got field goals of 39 and 42 yards from Cremin to help seal the victory.
One of the nation’s leading rushers, Midland back Deon Ransom ran only nine times for 29 yards. The bulk of the Warrior yardage came from the throwing of Garry Cannon, who completed 16-of-33 passes for 175 yards and a touchdown. His final toss of the day went for 28 yards and a touchdown to Tristin Kamaka with two seconds left in the game.
Junior running back Jordan Slough spelled Collins, who did not play in the second half. Slough rushed 11 times for 36 yards after coming off the bench. The Bulldogs totaled 143 yards on the ground.
“Our coaches just talked all week about coming out and playing a physical football game,” Slough said. “There’s nothing we can do about the past weeks. It’s just from here on out, how are we going to respond and how are we going to finish the season? We came out and responded.”
The always reliable Garcia hauled in eight passes for 102 yards while becoming the second player in program history to eclipse 2,000 career receiving yards. Garcia also dazzled in the punt return game, rattling off returns of 38 and 24 yards. TJ Austin threw for 87 yards and ran for another 52. Wiltfong went 8-for-13 for 104 yards and a touchdown pass. Wiltfong and the Concordia offense did not commit a single turnover.
Senior linebacker Michael Hedlund made eight tackles, giving him 247 for his career. He became the leading tackler among all players during Winter’s head coaching tenure thanks to his efforts on Saturday. Skwara topped the Bulldogs with nine tackles. Barnes finished with seven tackles and four quarterback hurries in addition to his two sacks.
The Bulldogs will travel to play an improved Dordt (4-4, 2-4 GPAC) squad next Saturday. Kickoff from Sioux Center, Iowa, is set for 1 p.m. CT. Concordia is 7-1 all-time versus the Defenders. Dordt came from behind to win at Hastings, 44-43, on Saturday afternoon.