SEWARD, Neb. – Using a balance of efficient ball control offense and stellar defensive play, the Concordia University football team has found a groove. While posting their third-straight win, the Bulldogs held a high octane Dakota Wesleyan offense to 217 total yards below its season average. Meanwhile, Concordia running back Ryan Durdon got loose for another 200-yard rushing effort in spearheading a 38-16 victory over the Tigers on chilly but sunny Saturday (Oct. 28) inside Bulldog Stadium.
The home win streak has now stretched to 10 for first-year head coach Patrick Daberkow’s program. Knocking on the door of the NAIA’s top 25 poll, the Bulldogs improved to 5-3 overall and to 4-2 in conference play.
“Coach (Corby) Osten has done such a great job with the defense and Coach (Wes) Coomes with the secondary,” Daberkow said. “It’s really about executing the game plans. Give credit to D’Mauria Martin, Tarence Roby and guys like Nate Gilmore, Caden Jameson and Sebastian Garces. They had to stay in coverage and they did such a great job today. I felt like we got more pressure on them than we have in the past.”
There were stretches of up-and-down play early in the season, but the Concordia defense has developed into a nasty unit. Dakota Wesleyan star quarterback Dillon Turner faced constant pressure and went just 15-for-37 through the air. Turner and the high-flying Tiger offense came in averaging 577 yards and nearly 45 points per game.
Freshman linebacker Lane Napier (16 tackles, one sack), senior nose guard Erik Small (10 tackles, three for loss) and a playmaking secondary were up to the task. The Bulldogs even forced a key late turnover when Grady Gardner stripped Turner for a fumble that was recovered by Brandon Aragon.
“That was the main thing. We had to contain (Turner),” Napier said. “Keep him in the pocket. When we did make a tackle we couldn’t dive at his legs. We had to wrap him up.”
While Small and Napier cleaned things up in the front seven, the defensive backfield was terrific. Gilmore, Martin and Roby combined for seven pass breakups. The team leader with five picks this season, Martin came frustratingly close to an interception on multiple occasions. Roby dislodged the ball from a receiver on a key third-quarter fourth down play in the red zone.
Offensively, it was mostly about pounding Durdon and getting some important third-down conversions via the right arm and legs of quarterback Riley Wiltfong. Dakota Wesleyan did a commendable job of bottling up Durdon in the third quarter, but the bruising back from Decatur, Texas, churned out 25 yards or more on three separate carries, including a 76-yard touchdown burst that put the game on ice in the fourth quarter. Durdon finished with 201 yards and a score on 30 rushes.
“We just keep things simple,” Wiltfong said. “It’s no surprise. Everyone knows we’re a run team first. We just did what we did. At times we got stopped up, but we just stayed on pace and ran the ball. That opened up things on third down. It really wasn’t anything different than what it has been in the past.”
Earlier this season, Wiltfong battled through an injured ankle that appears to be just fine now. Wiltfong threw for 221 yards and two touchdowns and piled up 87 yards and a score on the ground. Wiltfong outdueled Turner while throwing scoring tosses of 42 and 36 yards to Jared Garcia in the first half. Wiltfong also galloped 45 yards for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter.
Durdon and Garcia are bona fide stars. Running behind a physical offensive line, Durdon has netted 1,056 yards rushing (fourth best in program history) and is now 209 yards off the program single-season record of 1,265 yards by JaMaine Lewis in 2007. Meanwhile, Garcia hauled in six catches for 116 yards and two touchdowns on Saturday. His 2,417 career receiving yards rank second behind Ross Wurdeman (2,458) on the school’s all-time list.
A little trickery helped Concordia jump out to a 7-0 lead in the first quarter. Facing a fourth-and-goal from the four, senior Kiyoshi Brey lined up at holder, took the snap and scurried off the right side for a touchdown on a fake field goal. The surprise call completed a 14-play, 67-yard drive.
Turner and company experienced very little success on the ground. Turner’s scrambling ability led to 55 of the team’s 120 rushing yards. The Tigers (5-5, 3-4 GPAC) averaged only 2.8 yards per carry. Running backs Luke Loudenburg and Jonny Withrow combined to rush for 65 yards on 27 attempts. Receiver Hayden Adams caught six passes for 157 yards as the team’s top threat on Saturday.
The Bulldogs will be on the road for the final time this fall when they take on Briar Cliff (0-9, 0-6 GPAC) at 1 p.m. CT next Saturday (Nov. 4) in Sioux City, Iowa. Charger home games are played at Bishop Heelan Memorial Field. Concordia has won each of its last 10 meetings with Briar Cliff, including last year’s 56-0 blowout victory that took place inside Bulldog Stadium.
Sitting in third place in the conference standings, the Bulldogs believe they have a lot to play for with a home tilt with unbeaten and fourth-ranked Morningside (9-0, 6-0 GPAC) also looming on Nov. 11.
“The goal will stay the same,” Daberkow said. “The goal is to have a great film session Sunday evening and make wise decisions on Saturday night. That’s our game plan right now. We’ll take things 24 hours at a time in this conference. If you look too far ahead, you’ll get bit.”