Game Notes: Concordia looks for rebound under Bulldog Stadium lights

By Jacob Knabel on Sep. 25, 2023 in Football

SEWARD, Neb. – A large whiteout crowd filled Bulldog Stadium this past homecoming Saturday. The Concordia University Football program hopes for an even more electric atmosphere this weekend as it hosts its first night game since the 2020 season. Saturday’s kickoff from Bulldog Stadium is slated for 6 p.m. CT as Briar Cliff readies for a trip to Seward. Head Coach Patrick Daberkow’s squad is starving for a victory after suffering back-to-back GPAC setbacks.

Concordia slipped to 1-3 with last week’s 16-12 homecoming loss to Dakota Wesleyan. The Bulldogs had their chances to erase a 16-3 fourth quarter deficit. They got within 16-10 after DJ McGarvie’s nine-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter. However, the Bulldogs were stopped on a fourth down play that was thwarted near the one yard line in the final seconds. Concordia has dropped its first two home games of the 2023 season.

Head Coach Shane LaDage is in his third season leading the Briar Cliff program. The Chargers got on the board with their first victory of the season via last week’s 19-16 home decision over Hastings. Briar Cliff came through with two fourth-quarter touchdowns to erase what had been a 16-6 deficit. Prior to the win, Briar Cliff endured losses at the hands of Waldorf University (Iowa), Mount Marty and Midland. The Chargers are averaging 16.8 points per game offensively while allowing 36.8 points per outing on the defensive side.

Concordia (1-3, 1-3 GPAC) vs. Briar Cliff (1-3, 1-2 GPAC)
Saturday, Sept. 30 | 6 p.m.
Bulldog Stadium | Seward, Neb.
Webcast: Concordia Sports Network
Live Stats: NAIA PrestoStats
Radio: 104.9 Max Country
Commentators: Parker Cyza and Ross Wurdeman
Online Tickets: HomeTown Ticketing (also sold on site)


Team Statistics
*2023 national rankings out of 96 NAIA football programs

Offensive PPG: 20.3 (61st)
Defensive PPG: 31.3 (63rd)
Total Offense: 382.5 (33rd)
Pass Offense: 265.0 (16th)
Rush Offense: 117.5 (57th)
Total Defense: 421.5 (77th)
Pass Defense: 241.5 (70th)
Rush Defense: 180.0 (75th)
Turnover +/-: -6

Briar Cliff
Offensive PPG: 16.8 (74th)
Defensive PPG: 36.8 (T-76th)
Total Offense: 217.8 (85th)
Pass Offense: 145.3 (77th)
Rush Offense: 72.5 (85th)
Total Defense: 413.5 (72nd)
Pass Defense: 219.3 (T-52nd)
Rush Defense: 194.3 (81st)
Turnover +/-: +4


Head Coach: Patrick Daberkow (28-34, 7th season)
Passing: DJ McGarvie – 94/151 (.623), 1,060 yards, 4 td, 7 int, 120.7 effic.
Rushing: Devin Zeigler – 74 rushes, 343 yards, 4.6 avg, 4 td
Receiving: Austin Jablonski – 39 receptions, 424 yards, 10.9 avg, 2 td
Defense: Kyle Sterup – 36 tackles, 9.5 tfl’s, 2 sacks, 1 ff, 1 fr

Briar Cliff
Head Coach: Shane LaDage (5-21, 3rd season)
Passing: Luke Davies – 19/50 (.380), 217 yards, 3 td, 1 int, 90.3 effic.
Rushing: Matthew Mason – 88 rushes, 304 yards, 3.5 avg, 2 td
Receiving: Aaron Okoro – 18 receptions, 219 yards, 12.2 avg, 4 td
Defense: MJ Montgomery – 26 tackles, 6.5 tfl’s, 3.5 sacks, 2 ff


Concordia (1-3, 1-3 GPAC)
9/2 vs. (1) Northwestern, L, 35-48
9/9 at Jamestown, W, 27-23
9/16 at (19) Dordt, L, 7-38
9/23 vs. Dakota Wesleyan, L, 12-16 (homecoming)
9/30 vs. Briar Cliff, 6 p.m.
10/7 vs. (3) 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.

Briar Cliff (1-3, 1-2 GPAC)
8/26 at Waldorf, L, 20-35
9/2 at Mount Marty, L, 14-40
9/9 at Midland, L, 14-56
9/23 vs. Hastings, W, 19-16
9/30 at Concordia, 6 p.m.
10/7 vs. Doane, 1 p.m.
10/14 vs. (1) Northwestern, 1 p.m.
Oct. 21 vs. Dakota Wesleyan, 1 p.m.
Oct. 28 at (16) Dordt, 1 p.m.
11/4 at Jamestown, 1 p.m.
11/11 vs. (3) Morningside, 1 p.m.

In the rankings
Concordia landed at No. 6 in the 2023 GPAC preseason coaches’ poll and has been off the national radar this season, in terms of the NAIA coaches’ poll. The program’s most recent top 25 appearance came in November 2017 when they checked in at No. 25. Current Massey Ratings list Concordia at No. 42 and Briar Cliff at No. 83 in the NAIA. The Chargers have not cracked the NAIA top 25 during the program’s existence, which dates back to 2003.

GPAC preseason: 6th
Current Massey Ratings: 42nd

Briar Cliff
GPAC preseason: 11th
Current Massey Ratings: 83rd

Last time out
The Bulldogs suffered a heartbreaker on homecoming after their fourth-and-two play from the Dakota Wesleyan 3-yard-line was stopped short of the line to gain in the final minute. As a result, the Tigers held on and celebrated a 16-12 road victory. An inability to finish drives caught up to Concordia, which had two empty red zone trips and lost despite outgaining DWU, 450-317. Star receiver Austin Jablonski enjoyed a productive day with 15 catches for 142 yards and eight rushes for 56 yards (out of the wildcat formation). The Bulldogs got their only touchdown on a nine-yard scamper by quarterback DJ McGarvie early in the fourth quarter. McGarvie finished the game 24-of-40 passing for 238 yards. Devin Zeigler led the rushing attack with 88 yards on 19 carries. Defensively, Jaden Seier topped Concordia with 10 tackles. In addition, Michael Grindey picked off a pass and set up the fourth-quarter drive that was stopped just shy of the 1. The Bulldogs attempted to erase what had been a 16-3 deficit.

Under the lights
Bulldog Stadium is being prepped to host its first night game since Sept. 19, 2020. On that date, Concordia defeated Hastings in overtime, 34-28, behind a memorable performance by running back Jonah Weyand. He carried the ball 35 times for 177 yards and five touchdowns that evening. His 10-yard touchdown run in overtime made the Bulldogs a walk-off winner. Originally, this Saturday’s contest had been scheduled for 1 p.m. Athletic leadership collaborated with Briar Cliff to provide a night game experience for the players and fans. New to Bulldog Stadium is an improved lighting system that will be on display on Saturday night.

Coach Daberkow + staff
Patrick Daberkow’s history at Concordia dates back to his first season as a Bulldog football player in 2003. This is 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 (who specializes in coaching the offensive line, among other duties). 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 stood at 27-31 at the conclusion of six seasons. His most successful year was a 7-3 record in 2021.

McGarvie reaches career milestone
Lincoln North Star High School product DJ McGarvie made his 20th career start this past homecoming Saturday. McGarvie performed solidly last week in completing 24-of-40 passes for 240 yards. That effort pushed him above 5,000 career passing yards. On the program’s all-time lists, McGarvie continues to rank No. 4 for both passing yards (5,097) and passing touchdowns (41). There are only four players in program history to have reached 5,000 passing yards. Next up for McGarvie to pass is Rod Giesselmann (5,519), a 2023 Concordia Athletics Hall of Fame inductee. McGarvie’s school record of 458 passing yards in a single game came last season against Dordt. McGarvie ranks second among GPAC quarterbacks for average passing yards per game (265.0) in 2023. According to Max Preps, McGarvie threw for 3,130 yards and 25 touchdowns in 26 career high school games at Lincoln North Star.

Concordia all-time passing yards leaders
1. Jarrod Pimentel – 6,435
2. Von Thomas – 5,662
3. Rod Giesselmann – 5,519
4. DJ McGarvie – 5,097
5. Kurt Earl – 4,158

Concordia all-time passing touchdowns leaders
1. Von Thomas – 49
1. Jarrod Pimentel – 49
3. Rod Giesselmann – 47
4. DJ McGarvie – 41
5. Kurt Earl – 37

Sterup/Grindey lead Concordia defense
The defense enjoyed its best outing of the season this past week as it held Dakota Wesleyan to only six points after halftime. The Tigers also picked up just one first down the entire fourth quarter as they were thwarted by the likes of stars Michael Grindey and Kyle Sterup. A linebacker from Chandler, Ariz., Grindey plucked his second interception of the season as part of last week’s action. Grindey has produced 28 tackles and a sack so far in 2023. As for Kyle Sterup, he’s been the team’s unofficial MVP through the first four weeks of the season. The junior from Osceola, Neb., has been a handful for opposing offensive lines. He’s already racked up 36 tackles, 9.5 stops for loss, two sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Sterup added another tackle in the backfield last week as the Concordia defense stifled DWU in the second half.

Jablonski takes over national lead for receptions
Former University of Nebraska walk on Austin Jablonski has emerged as the no-doubt go-to playmaker for the Concordia offense. Dakota Wesleyan struggled to slow down Jablonski in the run game. The 6-foot-4 Lincoln Pius X High School alum rushed eight times for 56 yards out of the wildcat. He also snagged 15 receptions for 142 yards. Among GPAC players, Jablonski ranks first in receptions (39) and second in receiving yards (424) this season. Jablonski is also the national leader for catches and catches per game (9.8). The Concordia football program had never had a 1,000-yard receiver until Korrell Koehlmoos accomplished that feat in 2022. Jablonski is on pace to make it back-to-back years with such an attainment.

Jablonski game-by-game receiving numbers
9/2 vs. Northwestern: 9 for 122, 2 TD
9/9 at Jamestown: 5 for 85
9/16 at Dordt: 10 for 75
9/23 vs. DWU: 15 for 142

Zeigler breaking out
The 5-foot-7 strong-as-an-ox running back Devin Zeigler continues to enjoy his best season as a Bulldog. A fifth-year player from Houston, Texas, Zeigler has rushed for at least 88 yards in three of the first four games. He currently ranks second among GPAC players with an average of 85.8 rushing yards per game. Zeigler ran for 102 yards versus Jamestown and then put together a career day at Jamestown with 124 yards and three touchdowns. This past week, he toted the rock 19 times for 88 yards. In his five seasons at Concordia, Zeigler has carried the ball 343 times for 1,346 yards and nine touchdowns.

After the win at Jamestown, Daberkow praised Zeigler in saying, “I’m proud of Devin. If it’s 100 degrees in July, he’s out there doing footwork drills by himself. If it’s 20 below and it’s in February, he’s in the gym doing footwork drills. He’s a squat rack guy. When two people collide, the squat rack wins. Devin squats 600 pounds, and he didn’t squat that when he came here. He’s worked really, really hard. I’m so proud of him.”

On the mend
Both safety Gabe Knisley and receiver Adam Van Cleave sat out the loss at Dordt due to injuries. Van Cleave returned last week versus Dakota Wesleyan while Knisley remained sidelined. The Bulldogs have also been without potential impact players in offensive lineman Gavin Mull and receiver James Carnie. Mull possesses starting experience up front while Carnie was a highly touted recruit out of Norris High School. Carnie originally chose the University of Nebraska over scholarship offers from other power conference schools in Iowa and Kansas State.

O-line made up of upperclassmen
The offensive line that Concordia has started in recent weeks (listed below) has featured four juniors and one senior in fifth-year Bulldog right guard Christian Schlepp. The line also includes Cohen Carpenter and Blake Schlegel at the tackles, Tyler Walford at left guard and Jackson Anderson at center. Those five players average a weight of 277 pounds. Others who have seen action up front include Toby Hager, Nathan Miller and Seth Moore. Daberkow has used as many as nine offensive linemen on the field at once in what the program dubs its “Rhino Package.” That formation was put to use on Devin Zeigler’s game-winning touchdown at Jamestown.

Projected starters
LT – No. 54 Cohen Carpenter, Jr. (6-4, 250)
LG – No. 69 Tyler Walford, Jr. (6-3, 300)
C – No. 56 Jackson Anderson, Jr. (6-1, 245)
RG – No. 58 Christian Schlepp, Sr. (6-2, 265)
RT – No. 74 Blake Schlegel, Jr. (6-6, 325)

Freshmen take over kicking game
Gone is last year’s kicker/punter combination of Ty Harold and Korrell Koehlmoos. In their place have steppeda group of freshmen. Special Teams Coordinator Trent Laune has turned to Peyton Atwood for placekicking, Braxton Borer and Jayson Guthard for punting and Admir Mujkic for kickoff duties. Atwood has gone 10-for-11 on PATs and 1-for-3 on field goals through the first four weeks. Borer stepped into the punting role last week. Quarterback DJ McGarvie has also punted twice this season in situations where Concordia appeared to be lining up to go for a fourth-down conversion.

Series vs. Briar Cliff
The series between Concordia and Briar Cliff dates back to 2003 when the Chargers played their inaugural football season. The Bulldogs are 17-3 all-time versus Briar Cliff. Concordia won 11-straight in the series until the Chargers snapped the string in 2018 with a 23-14 victory. Since that setback, the Bulldogs have won each of the past four meetings, including the last two in particularly decisive fashion – 61-21 in 2021 (Seward) and 45-10 in 2022 (Sioux City). The Bulldog offense enjoyed a productive day in last year’s matchup as DJ McGarvie threw for 274 yards and two scores and both Mark Arp (130) and Devin Zeigler (102) went over 100 rushing yards. Concordia gave its fullback some glory as Brandon Vega plunged across the goal line for two touchdowns. Michael Grindey led the defense with eight tackles and a fumble recovery.

Scouting Briar Cliff
Dating back to last season, Briar Cliff had lost 11 games in a row before snapping the streak with a come-from-behind 19-16 home win over Hastings this past Saturday. The one and only winning season in program history occurred in 2018 when the Chargers went 6-5. Now in his third season as head coach, Shane LaDage is attempting to change Briar Cliff’s fortunes. The 2023 squad features returning Second Team All-GPAC linebacker Brett Tinker and productive defensive lineman MJ Montgomery. While the Chargers do not rank highly in any particularly key offensive or defensive categories, they have been strong in the turnover department (plus-four). Offensively, Briar Cliff has had four different quarterbacks throw passes already this season. Through four games, the Chargers are averaging only 217.8 yards per game. Briar Cliff was picked 11th in the GPAC preseason poll after finishing 2022 at 1-10 overall.