SEWARD, Neb. – With the game appeared headed for a 14-14 halftime score, Bulldog defensive back Tarence Roby scooped up a fumble and raced 46 yards to the end zone in a play that proved crucial. The Concordia University football team maintained a lead the remainder of the game on the way to a 35-28 home-opening victory over Midland University inside Bulldog Stadium on Saturday.
Offensively, senior quarterback Von Thomas fired four touchdown passes and ran for 91 yards. When deciding to let it fly, Thomas simply let his big freshmen receivers go up and make plays. Wideout Jared Garcia, coming off a 184-yard receiving game last week at Hastings, caught three of those touchdown tosses.
“Von and I bonded a lot this summer,” Garcia said. “A lot of stuff we’re doing out here has to do with that camaraderie we built over the summer. It’s working out for us.”
The lethal combination of Thomas to Garcia helped overcome 508 yards of total offense by Midland. The Bulldog defense limited the Warriors by forcing four turnovers – two by way of Roby, who also came up with an interception.
“Credit goes to Midland. They’re much improved on offense,” sixth-year head coach Vance Winter said. “They really had us on our heels for a lot of the game. I thought defensively we made some big plays when it counted. The score on D with Tarence was a huge play before the half.
“It was a highly-competitive game. Fortunately we made a few more plays.”
In a game that saw six combined turnovers, none was bigger than the Warrior lost fumble late in the first half. Roby pounced on Alex Cornist’s miscue and easily outran the Midland offense to the end zone with 0:36 left in the half.
If Bulldog fans were unaware of Roby’s talents beforehand, they now know the transfer from Northern Illinois University.
“I saw the running back catch the ball so I went over to pursue,” Roby said of the game-changing play. “I saw the ball pop out and I was just hoping it wouldn’t go out of bounds. Coach always says if it’s at the end of the quarter try to scoop and score. That’s what I did and I ended up in the end zone.”
Midland had one last opportunity with the score at 35-28. After stuffing Bryce Collins on a fourth and goal at the one, the Warriors took over with 6:14 left in the game and marched 57 yards on 11 plays. That’s when safety Michael Hedlund picked off a tipped pass from Midland quarterback Andrew Cameron.
Concordia then got one first down on a pair of Collins runs and milked the remaining clock to improve to 14-8 over the program’s last 22 games. Collins and the rushing attack helped seal up another close win. Each of the team’s first three games has been decided by seven points or less.
“We’re going to be in a lot of four-quarter games,” Winter said. “We’ve got so much youth and inexperience at a lot of positions. It’s going to be that way, but they are fun to coach. They continue to compete very hard so I’m excited to see their continued growth.”
The growth process has happened at an accelerated rate for Garcia, who now has 18 catches for 314 yards and four touchdowns on the season. On Saturday the native of Humble, Texas, caught scoring rifles of 12, 13 and 31 yards. His 13-yard touchdown catch with 11:56 left in the game provided a 35-21 advantage and enough margin for the Bulldogs to hang on.
“Those guys put in the time during the summer,” Winter said of Thomas and Garcia. “You can definitely tell that they’ve got a good feel for each other and where they’re going to be. Jared’s a legit receiver. It’s been really fun to watch those two guys the past two games.”
Thomas went 8-for-18 passing for 140 yards. He threw his first interception of the season on Saturday but still owns a sparking eight-to-one touchdown-to-interception ratio. His four passing scores pushed his career total touchdown figure to 50 (36 passing, 14 rushing) – two short of Jarrod Pimentel’s school record.
Collins led Concordia with 99 rushing yards, including a long of 38. DeMarques Saulberry ran nine times for 35 yards. Another freshman receiver – Carey Harrison – also caught a touchdown toss from Thomas. Harrison’s scoring catch at the beginning of the second half covered 38 yards.
Defensively, both D’Mauria Martin and Nakemm Evans notched 10 tackles to lead the Bulldogs.
On the opposite side, Alex Cornist enjoyed a big day on the ground for Midland. He ran for 189 yards on 32 carries. He scored all four of the Warrior touchdowns.
The Bulldogs are back at home next Saturday to host their final non-conference game of the regular season. Winter’s alma mater Dakota State University (2-2) will visit Seward for a 6 p.m. kickoff inside Bulldog Stadium. Concordia has defeated the Trojans in each of the last three seasons. Dakota State fell 40-37 to Presentation College on Saturday.