SEWARD, Neb. – Senior defensive lineman Clint Gardels enjoyed a career performance in his final game as a Bulldog in leading a Concordia University football team that continued its series dominance of visiting Briar Cliff on Saturday afternoon. On a day when the program recognized its 18 seniors, the Bulldogs punished the Chargers, 48-0, in the season finale for both teams.
Seventh-year head coach Vance Winter’s squad finished 2015 at 6-4 overall, 5-4 GPAC, marking the program’s second winning season in three years and ninth-consecutive series triumph over Briar Cliff (3-8, 2-7 GPAC). The latest victory snapped a three-game losing streak.
“We definitely had higher aspirations (for this season),” Winter said. “It just didn’t work out. Through all the injuries and things like that, I’m proud of how our guys continued to fight and continued to play hard. It showed the leadership of our seniors today in how we played. After a heartbreaking loss last week, our guys just went back to work this week in practice. I can’t be more proud of this group in how they played all season.”
Gardels, who played tight end his first three seasons at Concordia, terrorized Briar Cliff all afternoon. The Wilcox, Neb., native forced a fumble that set up Jared Garcia’s first-quarter touchdown. Then in the third quarter, Gardels scooped up a fumble in traffic and outran the Charger offense, racing 70 yards for a touchdown. His second career score capped a day that also included six tackles (3.5 for loss) and 1.5 sacks.
“They were all blocking for me,” Gardels said. “We just work as a group and we work really hard and practice that again and again. They blocked that guy twice to get me in there, so it was a lot because of my teammates.”
Two of the day’s biggest highlights came courtesy of Garcia, a playmaking dynamo. The sophomore from Pearland, Texas, busted free from two Briar Cliff tackles on the way to a 35-yard touchdown grab that pushed Concordia’s comfortable lead to 31-0 in the third quarter. Earlier Garcia had burned the Charger secondary for a 42-yard touchdown on a throw rifled by quarterback Garrett Folchert.
The big plays in the passing game were complimented by the bruising running of junior Bryce Collins, who had already posted his 13th career 100-yard rushing game by halftime. The Boerne, Texas, native finished with 141 yards on 28 carries. He found the end zone for the 29th time in his career with a second-quarter touchdown that made it 17-0 late in the first half.
Junior safety LeDontrae Gooden also got into the act with a pair of third-quarter interceptions. The first led to a nine-yard touchdown run for backup quarterback Andrew Perea, who saw the first varsity action of his career on Saturday. Gooden’s second pick (fifth of the season) was converted into a short Adam Meirose field goal.
Briar Cliff, which finished with 250 total yards, managed to penetrate the red zone on just one occasion. The Chargers came up empty as Angel Landeros’ 39-yard field goal try peppered the left upright. Quarterback Dylan Desmarais (8-for-17, 71 yards passing) and the Briar Cliff experienced little sustained success against a defensive unit led by the 11 tackles of junior linebacker Michael Hedlund.
Saturday was a fitting end for Hedlund and the rest of the linebacker core that made huge strides in 2015. Tait Sibbel and two other senior linebacker starters helped make for one of the NAIA’s best defenses.
“The move of Tait Sibbel and Brandon Namuth to outside linebackers has been massive for our defense,” Mauro said. “Those guys are amazing athletes. Mike Hedlund moved from safety and he is a phenomenal athlete and a great leader. He’s going to do really big things in the future. All I did was my job and those guys flew around and made a lot of plays for us.”
Folchert completed 9-of-16 passes for 138 yards and three touchdowns (two to Garcia, one to Trae Owens). Garcia caught five balls for 113 yards.
Collins finished the campaign with 946 rushing yards in his bid to become the program’s first-ever player to rack up 1,000 yards for a second-straight season. Following a single-season program record-breaking 11 touchdown catches in 2014, Garcia completed his sophomore year with 19 career scoring grabs – five off Ross Wurdeman’s school record of 24.
The Bulldogs said goodbye to 18 seniors on Saturday. The relatively small class means Concordia will return plenty of experience in 2016.
“It’s going to be a big nine months for us,” Winter said. “There’s something special about this senior group. There’s a grit and a toughness about the group. All of these seniors have been amazing. That’s the big question whether these younger classes are going to work as hard as this senior group has.”