Game Notes: Bulldogs brace for visit from defending national champs

By Jacob Knabel on Aug. 28, 2023 in Football

SEWARD, Neb. – The long-awaited kickoff with top-ranked Northwestern is nearing. The 2023 Concordia University Football season will get underway at 1 p.m. CT on Saturday from Bulldog Stadium. The Bulldogs ended the 2022 season by playing then No. 1 Morningside and now draw the defending national champions to ring in 2023. This will mark the 46th all-time meeting between Concordia and Northwestern. The most recent series victory for the Bulldogs came in Seward in 2016.

This will be year seven as head coach for Patrick Daberkow. Concordia is coming off a 2022 campaign that saw it finish at 4-6 overall. The Bulldogs landed at No. 6 in the 2023 GPAC preseason coaches’ poll. The ’22 squad averaged 25.6 points and 407.5 yards per game offensively while allowing 25.3 points and 369.4 yards per game defensively. Concordia is set to host its season opener for the first time since 2019 when it was clipped by Doane, 17-10.

Head Coach Matt McCarty’s program accomplished the ultimate goal back in December when it defeated Keiser University (Fla.), 35-25, in the NAIA national championship game. The ’22 Red Raiders were edged by Morningside, 30-29, in week one of the season and then proceeded to win their final 13 games while claiming the program’s third all-time national championship (1973, 1983 and 2022). This past season, Northwestern averaged 43.7 points and 467.6 yards per game offensively and surrendered 11.5 points and 226.6 yards per game defensively.

Concordia (0-0) vs. No. 1 Northwestern (0-0)
Saturday, Sept. 2 | 1 p.m.
Bulldog Stadium | Seward, Neb.
Webcast/Live Stats: Concordia Sports Network
Radio: 104.9 Max Country
Commentators: Parker Cyza and Ross Wurdeman
Online Tickets: HomeTown Ticketing (also sold on site)


Team Statistics

*2022 national rankings out of 98 NAIA football programs

Offensive PPG: 25.6 (47th)
Defensive PPG: 25.3 (50th)
Total Offense: 407.5 (17th)
Pass Offense: 281.7 (8th)
Rush Offense: 125.8 (59th)
Total Defense: 369.4 (67th)
Pass Defense: 190.7 (46th)
Rush Defense: 178.7 (76th)
Turnover +/-: +6

Offensive PPG: 43.7 (3rd)
Defensive PPG: 11.5 (3rd)
Total Offense: 467.6 (2nd)
Pass Offense: 259.5 (14th)
Rush Offense: 208.1 (9th)
Total Defense: 226.6 (4th)
Pass Defense: 163.0 (14th)
Rush Defense: 63.6 (5th)
Turnover +/-: +16



Head Coach: Patrick Daberkow (27-31, 7th season)
Passing: DJ McGarvie – 229/388 (.590), 2,553 yards, 18 td, 6 int, 126.5 effic.
Rushing: Devin Zeigler – 145 rushes, 586 yards, 4.0 avg, 4 td
Receiving: Luke Lang – 39 receptions, 593 yards, 15.2 avg, 5 td
Defense: Michael Grindey – 92 tackles, 4 tfl’s, 1 sack, 1 ff, 1 fr


Head Coach: Matt McCarty (67-18, 8th season)
Passing: Jalyn Gramstad – 176/256 (.688), 2,511 yards, 25 td, 4 int, 180.2 effic.; rushing: 141 attempts, 1,024 yards, 7.3 avg, 23 td
Rushing: Konner McQuillan – 153 rushes, 806 yards, 5.3 avg, 11 td; 21 receptions, 273 yards, 1 td
Receiving: Michael Storey – 79 receptions, 1,146 yards, 14.5 avg, 14 td
Defense: Ben Kingery – 41 tackles, 5.5 tfl’s, 2.5 sacks, 2 pbu, 1 ff


Concordia (0-0, 0-0 GPAC)
9/2 vs. (1) Northwestern, 1 p.m. (parents’ day)
9/9 at Jamestown, 1 p.m.
9/16 at (25) Dordt, 1 p.m.
9/23 vs. Dakota Wesleyan, 1 p.m. (homecoming)
9/30 vs. Briar Cliff, 1 p.m.
10/7 vs. (4) Morningside, 1 p.m.
10/14 vs. Hastings, 1 p.m.
10/28 at Midland, 1 p.m.
11/4 vs. Doane, 1 p.m. (senior day)
11/11 at Mount Marty, 1 p.m.

Northwestern (0-0, 0-0 GPAC)
9/2 at Concordia, 1 p.m.
9/9 at Drake, 6 p.m.
9/16 vs. Doane, 1 p.m.
9/23 at Mount Marty, 7 p.m.
9/30 at Midland, 1 p.m.
10/7 vs. Hastings, 1:30 p.m.
10/14 at Briar Cliff, 1 p.m.
10/21 vs. (25) Dordt, 1 p.m.
10/28 vs. (4) Morningside, 1 p.m.
11/4 at Dakota Wesleyan, 1 p.m.
11/11 vs. Jamestown, 1 p.m.

In the rankings
Concordia landed at No. 6 in the 2023 GPAC preseason coaches’ poll and is off the national radar to begin the campign. The program’s most recent top 25 appearance came in November 2017 when they landed at No. 25. Current Massey Ratings list Concordia at No. 38 and Northwestern at No. 3 in the NAIA. The Red Raiders began this season ranked No. 1 in the official NAIA coaches’ poll.

GPAC preseason: 6th
Current Massey Ratings: 38th

GPAC preseason: 1st
Current Massey Ratings: 3rd

Season openers
Concordia will open a season at home for the first time since 2019. A year ago, the Bulldogs began the season with a night game at Doane and slipped up, 12-10, in Crete. Over the past 10 seasons, Concordia has gone 6-4 in its season openers. Each of the past four opening games have come against conference opponents, including Doane three times.

Coach Daberkow + staff
Patrick Daberkow’s history at Concordia dates back to his first season as a Bulldog football player in 2003. This will be Daberkow’s 16th season as part of the program’s staff – seventh as head coach. He served as defensive coordinator for seven years before being named as head coach in December 2016. Daberkow assumed offensive play calling duties in 2022. Meanwhile, his full-time staff includes Defensive Coordinator Corby Osten, Special Teams Coordinator Trent Laune and Assistant Coach Grady Koch. A couple of significant additions to the staff this season are Kevin Crume (former Nebraska Wesleyan assistant) and Greg Nelson (former Lincoln Lutheran head coach). Daberkow’s record stands at 27-31 over his first six seasons. His most successful year was a 7-3 record in 2021.

McGarvie looks to build upon record breaking season
With quarterback DJ McGarvie at the controls, the 2022 Bulldogs ranked in the top 10 nationally in passing yards per game. Now a junior, McGarvie enters the season as the leading passer among returning GPAC quarterbacks (in terms of passing yards per game, 283.7). The native of Valparaiso, Neb., possesses 16 career starts and has led Concordia to a record of 10-6 in those games. Over the final seven games of 2022 (see below), McGarvie threw for at least 235 yards in each outing. His 458 yards versus Dordt are a school record for a single game. Last season, his second as a starter, McGarvie broke a 21-year-old school record for passing yards in a single season formerly held by Jarrod Pimentel (2,178). In 10 games, the Lincoln North Star High School product piled up 2,553 passing yards while also breaking season standards for completions (229) and attempts (388). With two years to go, McGarvie already owns school career rankings of fourth in passing touchdowns (37) and fifth in passing yards (4,037).

Final seven games of 2022:
--at Dakota Wesleyan: 26/40, 255 yards, 3 td, 1 int
--vs. Jamestown: 28/41, 393 yards, 1 td, 0 int (rushing td)
--vs. Mount Marty: 24/34, 235 yards, 3 td, 0 int
--vs. Dordt: 34/67, 458 yards, 4 td, 1 int
--at Midland: 24/46, 296 yards, 2 td, 1 int (rushing td)
--at Briar Cliff: 26/38, 274 yards, 2 td, 0 int
--vs. Morningside: 31/54, 318 yards, 3 td, 2 int

Arline, Jablonski, Lang return as part of prolific passing game
McGarvie will move on without his favorite target from 2022, Korrell Koehlmoos, who set school single-season records in 2022 for receptions (95), receiving yards (1,024) and receiving touchdowns (12). Fortunately, the Bulldogs bring back three pass catchers who each hauled in at least 36 receptions in 2022: Carsen Arline (40 catches for 409 yards), Luke Lang (39 catches for 593 yards) and Austin Jablonski (36 catches for 483 yards). Based on their production and potential, Lang and Jablonski both have the ability to rank among the best players in the league at their respective positions. A former walk-on at the University of Nebraska, Jablonski caught three touchdowns, rushed for three and passed for three more last season. He’s settled in as a receiver after beginning the 2022 campaign as the starting quarterback. In addition, Concordia expects major contributions from speedy receiver Adam Van Cleave of Columbus, Neb.

Grindey heads defense
The Concordia Football program routinely produces first team all-conference linebackers. Arizona native Michael Grindey is the latest to achieve that recognition. He accumulated a team high 92 tackles and was named First Team All-GPAC in 2022, his first full season as a starter with the Bulldogs. The route to Concordia was a circuitous one for Grindey, who began his college career at Creighton University, where he was a member of the club rugby team. He also spent a year away from college and was a high school football coach in Arizona. Grindey has family ties to the state of Nebraska and was born in Omaha. He has a brother at Creighton and a brother at the University of Nebraska. On another note, Grindey spent this past summer as an intern on the strength and conditioning staff for Cornhusker Football.

Polley catalyst for experienced d-line
While Grindey was a 2022 breakout star at linebacker, Edmond, Okla., native Devon Polley burst onto the scene at nose tackle. At 6-foot-1, 285 pounds, Polley lived in opposing backfields last season, racking up team highs of 15 tackles for loss and six sacks. He also made an acrobatic interception in the win at Dakota Wesleyan. The defensive line just might be the biggest strength of Osten’s defensive unit. The group also features Osceola, Neb., native Kyle Sterup who posted 63 tackles, 11.5 stops for loss and five sacks in 2022. Additional contributors should include Carson Adams, Carson Fehlhafer, Stephen Hughes and Joe Kahrs. Fehlhafer is back on the d-line after filling in on the o-line last fall when injuries struck. Tal Solo has moved to a linebacker spot.

O-line beefed up, prepared for step forward
The passing game popped last season and the ground game improved enough to churn out 3.8 yards per carry. The Bulldogs would like to see that number move above 4.0 behind a more experienced (and hopefully healthier) offensive line. A First Team All-GPAC honoree in 2020, Christian Schlepp is back for a fifth year inside the program. The projected starting five averages a weight of 283 pounds with tackles who stand at 6-5 and 6-6, respectively. The experienced returners also include Jackson Anderson, Toby Hager, Nathan Miller, Gavin Mull and Blake Schlegel. The biggest loss here is 2022 Second Team All-GPAC award winner Kaden Peters.

Arp/Zeigler make up experienced 1-2 punch
Concordia returns its top two rushers from last season in backs Devin Zeigler (586 yards, four touchdowns) and Mark Arp (375 yards and one touchdown). The duo combined for 961 rushing yards in 2022. A 5-foot-7, 190-pound native of Houston, Texas, Zeigler is in his fifth season inside the program. As for Arp, he entered the program as a quarterback out of McCook, Neb. The Bulldogs have former quarterbacks throughout their skill position units, including Jablonski and Lang.

Seward HS products back in secondary
There are two Seward High School products expected to start in the secondary on Saturday: corner Carson Core and safety Gabe Knisley. The latter ranked second on the team with 77 tackles in 2022 while Isiaha Conner paced the squad with four picks. In its 3-3-5 alignment, Concordia will make use of several other defensive backs, including returners such as Myles Lyons, Jaden Seier and Karsten McCarter, among others. A former receiver, Core is back for a fifth year of college football.

Series vs. Northwestern
Northwestern has had the upper hand, winning 31 of the first 45 meetings with Concordia in a series that began in 1960 (the first year of football at Northwestern). The Bulldogs’ most recent win over Northwestern occurred inside Bulldog Stadium in 2016 when they held off the Red Raiders, 9-7, in a defensive battle. In last season’s meeting in Orange City, Concordia took a 10-0 lead to halftime before things flipped dramatically in the second half. In what was game No. 4 of the season for Northwestern, quarterback Jalyn Gramstad experienced his coming out party. He went wild with 184 yards rushing and four touchdowns while throwing for 179 yards and one touchdown. Gramstad had replaced the injured Blake Fryar. The Red Raiders won by a 34-10 final score as part of their march to a national championship.

Scouting Northwestern
The Red Raiders begin 2023 as the NAIA’s top-ranked team. They are riding a 13-game winning streak and a national championship into a new season. Head Coach Matt McCarty’s program experienced a 3-7 season in 2016 and then went on to win at least nine games each year since then. The Northwestern alum has led the program to six NAIA playoff appearances in a row. He was named the 2022 NAIA-AFCA Coach of the Year. The ’22 team ranked in the top five of the NAIA in scoring and total offense and in scoring and total defense. With a year at quarterback under his belt, Jalyn Gramstad would likely be among the preseason favorites for national player of the year. The converted defensive back threw for 25 touchdowns and ran for 23 last year while producing more than 1,000 yards rushing. The offense is in good hands with the return of Gramstad, running back Konner McQuillan and receiver Michael Storey. Defensively, Northwestern did depart with its top three tacklers, including All-American linebacker Parker Fryar. In the GPAC preseason coaches’ poll, the Red Raiders pulled in eight of the 11 first-place votes and are picked to win the conference.