ORANGE CITY, Iowa – Faced with an early 13-point deficit on the road, 14th-ranked Concordia never panicked. However, host Northwestern (4-2, 3-2 GPAC) came through late to pull out a 30-28 victory in a Saturday afternoon GPAC battle that came down to the wire. The Bulldogs, who entered play as just one of five unbeaten teams in the NAIA, fell to 6-1 overall and 4-1 in conference action.
Junior quarterback Von Thomas tried to lead a game-winning scoring drive in the final minutes. The Bulldogs proceeded to the Northwestern 33 in the last minute, but a holding penalty and a sack doomed Concordia as time eventually ran out on its unbeaten season.
“This group’s going to respond,” Bulldog head coach Vance Winter said of the resiliency shown by his squad as it tried to rally back. “They would never stop fighting.
“We definitely weren’t perfect. Our defense could have played better. We struggled handling their running attack. Overall though, I’m pleased with the energy and how we kept fighting.”
The Bulldogs carried streaks of 13-straight quarters without allowing a touchdown and 27-consecutive quarters without surrendering a rushing score into Saturday’s contest. Both came to an end early in the first quarter when Northwestern got into the end zone on the ground. The Red Raiders pounded the football to the tune of 228 rushing yards in outgaining Concordia 400-360 for the game.
Trailing 30-22 with less than four minutes to play, the Bulldogs put together a six-play, 57-yard drive, culminating with freshman Bryce Collins’ third touchdown run of the day – this one from one yard out. Concordia thought it had tied the game on the two-point conversion attempt when sophomore tight end Josh Slechta hauled in Thomas’ pass near the right sideline but officials ruled him out of bounds, allowing the Red Raiders to cling to a 30-28 lead with 1:59 left in the game.
Concordia forced a three-and-out on Northwestern’s ensuing possession after an unsuccessful onside kick, but the Bulldogs burned all three timeouts in the process. The Bulldogs drove from their own 16 to the Red Raider 32 before the drive bogged down.
Collins, a native of Boerne, Texas, racked up 110 yards rushing on 28 carries, giving him his second career 100-yard performance. Collins scored on runs of two, four and one yards.
With Collins churning out tough yards in the running game and Thomas spreading the ball around to nine different receivers, the Bulldog offense came alive in the second quarter as they took a 14-13 lead to the halftime break.
“Bryce had a very good game,” Winter said. “Bryce ran effectively and we were able to open things up in the passing game. All our receivers made big plays.
“I was just disappointed in the last drive with having a holding penalty and a sack. We gave up too many sacks today.”
Collins’ second touchdown run, which came at the 10:18 mark of the second quarter, and a successful two-point conversion gave Concordia a 22-16 lead. But the Red Raiders scored just 17 seconds later with Jessie Riley’s 69-yard touchdown run that made it 23-22.
Things looked rough early on as Northwestern came out like gangbusters. The Red Raiders led it 13-0 just 5:54 into the game when quarterback Davis Bloemendaal found Jacey Hoegh for a 23-yard scoring strike. That touchdown was set up by a 36-yard punt return from Ben Green that placed the football at Concordia’s 23.
The Bulldogs went three-and-out on the game’s opening possession. After a punt, Northwestern marched 62 yards on nine plays for the game’s first touchdown. Running back Paul Hutson finished the drive with a two-yard rush.
Up 14-13, Thomas and company had a chance to extend its lead on its first possession of the second half. Concordia drove all the way to the Northwestern one-yard line only to turn it over on a fumble recovered in the end zone by the Red Raiders’ Jake Zylstra.
Sophomore safety Tait Sibbel picked off his team-leading third pass of the season and returned the ball 42 yards to Northwestern’s 35 late in the first half. Four players later, Thomas fired a 25-yard touchdown toss to freshman receiver Chevarius Curry-Felix to make it 14-13.
With positioning in the GPAC and the national polls on the line, Concordia’s first loss stings but Winter likes the mental state of his team. “Nobody is hanging their head. It is what it is,” Winter said.
The Bulldogs return home on Saturday to host rival Doane (3-3, 3-2 GPAC) next Saturday at 1 p.m. The Tigers had a bye this week following a 31-20 home loss to Dakota Wesleyan on Oct. 12. Last season Doane defeated Concordia 17-7 in the final game of the season played in Crete.
“They’re a good football team,” Winter said of Doane. “They’re very talented. I expect another four-quarter battle just like the one today.”