Late fireworks seal win over Briar Cliff

By Jacob Knabel on Sep. 30, 2023 in Football


SEWARD, Neb. – Late offensive fireworks and an exhilarating Bulldog Stadium light show made for a satisfying Saturday (Sept. 30) night for a Concordia University Football team that badly desired a victory. Big-play touchdowns of 68 and 75 yards in the fourth quarter helped erase the opposition’s special teams score as the Bulldogs held off Briar Cliff, 35-23. Four different Concordia players found the end zone as the offense piled up 478 total yards.

Head Coach Patrick Daberkow’s squad shook off back-to-back defeats while earning its first home victory of 2023. Halfway through the season, the Bulldogs stand at 2-3.

“I’m happy for our guys to be able to celebrate together and experience that,” Daberkow said. “There aren’t too many things in life better than a winning locker room. What an awesome crowd tonight. What an awesome environment. What a fun atmosphere, what a cool campus community and an awesome game day experience.

“You have to absorb all the lessons you can out of a game. We had some opportunities to break this game open. Briar Cliff played really well and they capitalized on our mistakes. We’d like to see things not be so tight at the end. It would probably be better for everyone’s health if we had a bigger margin, but that’s life in the GPAC.”

A week earlier, the Chargers rallied from a 16-6 fourth quarter deficit to defeat Hastings. Briar Cliff attempted to recapture that magic in Seward as it got within 21-16 and 28-23 in the final quarter. The last score for the Chargers came on Brock Saya’s 17-yard touchdown pass to Aaron Okoro. It was a big day for Okoro, who also returned a blocked punt 13 yards for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter.

The Concordia offense kicked it in gear at just the right time. The Bulldogs responded as DJ McGarvie found an uncovered Carsen Arline for a 68-yard touchdown with 4:56 left to play. The exclamation mark came later on when Austin Jablonski took the shotgun snap and sprinted 75 yards to the end zone. The Lincoln Pius X High School alum Jablonski enjoyed a big day with 86 yards rushing and 78 receiving yards on eight grabs.

The offense has shown explosiveness at times, as exemplified in the shootout with top-ranked Northwestern, but the past two weeks fell below expectations. Concordia got closer to where it wants to be on Saturday. Said Jablonski, “We’ve definitely taken some hard ones, but the one thing we’ve done is stuck together as a team. We always say, point the thumb, not the finger. Let’s be accountable and fix what we can fix ourselves. Stick together, and I think that showed tonight with a gutsy win by everyone involved. It feels great, but we’re hungry for more.”

McGarvie finished his day 18-for-31 for 229 yards and a touchdown through the air.  The Bulldogs mounted a 21-7 halftime lead as Mark Arp scored from 12 yards out and Devin Zeigler plunged over the goal line from one and eight yards away, respectively. Zeigler ran 22 times for 87 yards while Arp picked up 66 yards on his 13 carries. Six different Concordia players caught a pass, including Arline (five for 95) and tight end Luke Lang (three for 32). Beau Psencik also notched his first catch as a Bulldog.

Defensively, Concordia was stout against the run as Briar Cliff managed only 40 yards on 29 attempts. The Bulldogs were exceptionally active in the backfield with 10 tackles for loss. Linebacker Michael Grindey racked up 15 tackles and made 1.5 stops for loss. It was also a big day up front for Carson Fehlhafer, who registered 10 tackles, three tackles for loss and a sack. Two stops for loss were also notched by Devon Polley and Kyle Sterup. Safety Daylan Henson intercepted a pass, returned the ball 18 yards and set up the team’s second touchdown of the day.

The disruptive nature of the defensive line was a major positive. Said Fehlhafer (an offensive lineman in 2022), “We emphasize that a lot and try to control the game as much as we can. This is the best thing for me. If they needed me on offense, I’d go back over, but I’m feeling super comfortable (on the d-line) and I’m enjoying it a lot.”

Other than the blocked punt that Briar Cliff returned for a touchdown, the Bulldogs also showed well on special teams. Concordia got a block of its own thanks to Deegan Barnes. Winning the field position battle played a role in the first two scores for the Bulldogs. Placekicker Peyton Atwood made all five of his PATs while Braxton Borer delivered a punt that pinned the Chargers inside their own 10 in the first quarter.

Most of Briar Cliff’s offensive success came through the air. Saya completed 9-of-15 passes for 179 yards and two touchdowns. One of his scoring tosses covered 80 yards as Cory Carignan blazed to the end zone. The result moved Concordia to 18-3 all-time against the Chargers.

In spite of a couple of frustrating games, Daberkow sees reason to be optimistic moving forward. As a bonus, the Bulldog Stadium atmosphere impressed the recruits who were in attendance. Said Daberkow, “I love this team, my job and the community of people that surround me. It’s just so much fun to see them celebrate with each other.”

The next two outings will be on the road for the Bulldogs. Next Saturday (Oct. 7), they will be headed to Sioux City, Iowa, for a meeting with No. 3 Morningside (5-0, 4-0 GPAC). The Mustangs remained unbeaten with their 38-7 drubbing of Doane on Saturday. Concordia’s most recent win over Morningside came in 2003.