GAME NOTES: Concordia set to kick off 2016

By Jacob Knabel on Aug. 29, 2016 in Football

SEWARD, Neb. – The opening of the 2016 Concordia football season is just five days away. As part of the annual GPAC/KCAC Challenge, the Bulldogs welcome the University of Saint Mary (Kan.) to Bulldog Stadium on Saturday. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. CT from Seward.

Concordia is 4-3 in season-opening games under head coach Vance Winter, who begins his eighth season at the helm of the program in 2016. This season marks the first time the Bulldogs have opened up at home since 2012 when 13th-ranked Benedictine College (Kan.) came away from Seward with a 45-37 victory.

Saint Mary (1-0) at Concordia (0-0), 1 p.m. CT
Saturday, Sept. 3
Bulldog Stadium – Seward, Neb.
Live Webcast: Concordia Sports Network
Radio: KTMX-FM 104.9 Max Country
Commentators: Jayson Jorgenson and Tyler Cavalli

2015 Final Team Statistics
*National rank in parentheses

Offensive PPG: 29.4 (T-38th)
Defensive PPG: 18.7 (13th)
Total Offense: 370.9 (47th)
Pass Offense: 203.7 (42nd)
Rush Offense: 167.2 (44th)
Total Defense: 279.6 (4th)
Pass Defense: 144.0 (3rd)
Rush Defense: 135.6 (24th)
Turnover +/-: 0 (T-41st) 

Saint Mary
Offensive PPG: 21.7 (60th)
Defensive PPG: 34.4 (63rd)
Total Offense: 357.2 (51st)
Pass Offense: 278.5 (11th)
Rush Offense: 78.6 (84th)
Total Defense: 374.5 (T-31st)
Pass Defense: 138.3 (2nd)
Rush Defense: 236.2 (76th)
Turnover +/-: -13 (T-76th) 

Returning Individual Leaders

Head Coach: Vance Winter (34-41, 8th season)
Quarterback: TJ Austin – Passing: 49/97 (.505), 622 yards, 8 td, 2 int; Rushing: 64 att, 357 yards, 5.6 avg, 3 td
Running Back: Bryce Collins – Rushing: 193 att, 946 yards, 4.9 avg, 9 td; Receiving: 31 catches, 286 yards, td
Receiving: Jared Garcia – 41 catches, 713 yards, 17.4 avg, 8 td
Defense: Trey Barnes – 75 tackles, 20 tfl’s, 10 sacks

Saint Mary
Head Coach: Jay Osborne (8-15, 3rd season)
Quarterback: Drew Cortez – 256/433 (.591), 2,673 yards, 18 td, 16 int
Running Back: Zach Hilliard – 21 att, 108 yards, 5.1 avg, td
Receiving: Isai Fernandez – 25 catches, 302 yards, 12.1 avg, 3 td
Defense: KyRandall Smith – 98 tackles, 12.5 tfl’s, 0.5 sacks 

In the rankings
Concordia received a lofty third-place preseason ranking the GPAC poll, as selected by the coaches. Media members placed the Bulldogs fifth in the conference. In the NAIA preseason national poll, Concordia earned 18 total points, positioning it just outside the top 25 (listed second among “others receiving votes”). On the other hand, University of Saint Mary was pegged sixth by the coaches and seventh by the media, respectively, in Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference preseason polls.

The staff
Concordia has enjoyed great continuity on its coaching staff in recent years. Vance Winter’s brain trust includes offensive coordinator Curran White (fifth season), defensive coordinator Patrick Daberkow (seventh season as DC; 10th season on staff) and special teams coach Corby Osten (eighth season at Concordia). Graduate assistants Wes Coomes and Brian Quinn are both back for their second seasons. Courtney Meyer, the longest-tenured head coach in program history (1990-2008), continues to serve the program, working with kickers, punters and fullbacks.

What a catch
Several different quarterbacks have put the ball in the air over the past two seasons for Concordia, but one constant has remained in the passing game: receiver Jared Garcia. The native of Pearland, Texas, has put together one of the most prolific two-year runs ever by a Bulldog pass catcher. The junior enters 2016 with career totals of 85 catches for 1,363 yards and 19 touchdowns. His 11 touchdown snags in 2014 broke a program single-season record. He’s also within range of rewriting all major Concordia career receiving records (see below). He’s chasing Concordia Athletic Hall of Fame tight end Ross Wurdeman (’02) in all major categories.

Program career receiving records
Catches: Ross Wurdeman – 168
Yards: Ross Wurdeman – 2,458
Touchdowns: Ross Wurdeman – 24

Running down history
Jared Garcia is not the only Bulldog with a chance to make history in the near future. Two-time first team all-conference running back Bryce Collins needs 993 rushing yards this season to pass Cleve Wester (’86) for the most ever by a Bulldog. Wester ran for 3,658 yards with a single-season career best of 1,114 rushing yards (second most ever in a single season) in 1984. The single-season program record for rushing yards was set in 2007 by JaMaine Lewis, who piled up 1,265 yards. Over his first three seasons, Collins has turned in rushing totals of 704 (2013), 1,016 (2014) and 946 (2015) for a cumulative total of 2,666. A native of Boerne, Texas, Collins has racked up 29 career touchdowns (27 rushing, two receiving).

Program career rushing leaders
1. Cleve Wester (1982-85) – 3,658
2. Gary Seevers (1953-56) – 3,128
3. Alex Alvarez (1999-03) – 2,959
4. JaMaine Lewis (2004-07) – 2,731
5. Bryce Collins (2013-- ) – 2,666 

Dominant D
Concordia and Tabor College (Kan.) are the only two NAIA football programs to post top-five rankings in total defense in two of the past three seasons. The Bulldogs ranked fourth nationally in total defense in both 2013 and 2015. Since Patrick Daberkow became defensive coordinator, Concordia has never rated worse than 48th nationally in terms of total defense. This season the Bulldogs return seven players from their 2015 defense that limited opponents to averages of 279.6 yards and 18.7 points per game. The headlining returners include the likes of defensive end Trey Barnes, a second team All-American, linebacker Michael Hedlund (105 tackles) and Tarence Roby (first team all-conference).

Calling the signals
This week’s two deep lists both TJ Austin and Riley Wiltfong at the quarterback position. Vance Winter has talked all preseason about playing both quarterbacks and putting them in situations that best suit their skills. The staff also likes what the strong-armed Andrew Perea brings to the table. Austin possesses the most experience having tossed 12 touchdown passes and more than 1,000 yards in his career. On the other hand, Wiltfong saw action in two games last season. Both Austin and Wiltfong are expected to see heavy action in 2016.

Kick start
The kicking game is one of the biggest question marks surrounding the 2016 squad. Heading into week one, junior college transfer Brendan Cremin (kicker) and Trey Barnes (punter) were listed atop the depth chart. Cremin showed the best pop among the kickers in competition for the job this preseason. Barnes also has a displayed a booming leg as a punter. Concordia graduated its kicker (Adam Meirose) and punter (Sandy Fisher) from the 2015 team.

Scouting Saint Mary
The Spires have one game under their belt having pummeled Trinity Bible College (N.D.), 34-0, on Aug. 27. Saint Mary is coming off a 3-8 season in 2015, during which is dropped a 27-13 decision to Briar Cliff as part of the GPAC/KCAC Challenge. The Spires lost their top three rushers from 2015, but got a big day from Easton Ridley versus Trinity Bible. Ridley ran for 154 yards and two scores on 20 carries. A strong rushing attack meant returning starting quarterback Drew Cortez was needed for just five pass attempts. The overwhelming run-to-pass ratio (54-11) from week one marked a stark contrast in comparison to last season. As a freshman, Cortez put the ball up 433 times, amassing 2,673 yards and 18 touchdown passes. A total of five Spires made the preseason all-conference team released by the KCAC: defensive lineman Andrew Kump, defensive back Kenny Nez, punter Aiden Pirrin, Ridley and linebacker KyRandall Smith. Jay Osborne is in his seventh season on the Saint Mary coaching staff – third as head coach. Osborne will attempt to lead the Spires to their first winning season since they went 6-5 in 2012. This is believed to be the first-ever meeting between Concordia and Saint Mary.