LINCOLN, Neb. – The trip 27 miles east to Lincoln continues to be a rough journey for the Bulldogs, who struggled offensively on the way to a 16-6 loss to rival Nebraska Wesleyan on Saturday afternoon. With the win, the Prairie Wolves improved to 14-1 in the last 15 meetings in the series played in Lincoln, Neb.
“Wesleyan’s defense took away a lot of things we like to do,” Concordia head coach Vance Winter said. “They really dominated us up front. They have an unbelievably good defense, as good as we’ve played against all season. Their defense is as good as advertised.”
The Bulldog offense sputtered to a season low six points and 210 total yards against that stingy Nebraska Wesleyan unit that entered the game with the NAIA’s 16th-ranked defense (284.4 ypg). Concordia’s offensive highlight of the day came when quarterback Von Thomas fired a perfect 39-yard touchdown pass to senior receiver Colten Quinabo early in the second quarter. The Bulldogs led 6-0 but would fail to score over the final 40:22 of the game.
Prairie Wolf senior defensive back Cody Eiler, a thorn in Concordia’s side all day, thwarted a prime scoring chance early in the fourth quarter when he picked off Thomas’ pass in the end zone on a third and goal from the four. Eiler’s interception, one of three on the day for the Nebraska Wesleyan star, kept the Prairie Wolves in front 9-6 and ended one of the Bulldogs’ more promising drives of the game.
Nebraska Wesleyan would proceed to eat 5:31 off the clock on the ensuing possession before punting it away to give Concordia one last opportunity while trailing by just three points. After gaining one first down on a 16-yard connection from Thomas to Noah Smith, the Bulldogs were forced to punt for the ninth time in the game.
The Prairie Wolves then marched 55 yards on five plays, finishing the drive with a four-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Tyler Francis to receiver Brooks Erhart to give Nebraska Wesleyan a commanding 16-6 lead with only 3:33 left in the game. Thomas would be intercepted one last time by Eiler on the final Concordia possession to seal the Prairie Wolf victory on homecoming at Abel Stadium.
“We were nervous about this game because their strengths matched up well against our weaknesses,” Winter said. “They handled us in the trenches and we didn’t do a good job with their pressure. We didn’t give our defense a chance. They were on the field all game.
“We just got beat. We’ve got to stick together and get ready to roll next week.”
The Bulldogs came up with a pair of interceptions themselves, but failed to turn either one into points. Junior linebacker Langston Jones plucked a Francis pass with one hand and raced 34 yards to the Nebraska Wesleyan 46-yard line early in the second quarter. Concordia then went three-and-out and punted it away.
Then midway through the second quarter with the Bulldogs up 6-0, safety Darnell Woods snared his team-leading fourth interception of the season on a Francis pass. Again Concordia was set up with opportune field position at its own 40, but again it was turned away by the Prairie Wolf defense after a holding penalty negated a first-down pass.
Thomas finished 15 of 38 passing for 172 yards and one touchdown. He also led the team with a mere 17 yards rushing for a ground attack that was held to 38 yards on 18 attempts. The lack of a rushing game contributed to Nebraska Wesleyan’s total of 39:23 in time of possession.
Quinabo had his best game of the season, catching nine passes for 123 yards and a touchdown.
Francis, the Nebraska Wesleyan signal caller, shook off his two second quarter interceptions and ended up 26-for-38 through the air with 256 yards and a touchdown pass in powering the Prairie Wolves to a 355-210 advantage in total yards.
Woods had an outstanding game at safety with a team high 11 tackles to go along with the interception and a pass break up. Junior linebacker Dylan Heithoff and Jones each came up with nine stops, while Heithoff also added a half a sack and a tackle for loss.
“A lot of guys played well for us defensively,” Winter said. “Special teams, which has been a huge advantage for us all year, was pretty much a wash today. The key was that Wesleyan’s offense was much more functional than ours.”
Junior cornerback/return man Derek Blessing, the reigning GPAC Special Teams Player of the Week, was limited to three punt returns for 24 yards and two kick returns for 32 yards on the day.
Saturday’s game marked the fourth game this season that Concordia has served as the visiting team for the opposition’s homecoming. The Bulldogs are 2-2 in those four contests with wins over Dakota State and Briar Cliff.
Concordia will return home on Oct. 27 for Senior Day in the final game at Bulldog Stadium this season. Kickoff is slated for 1 p.m. versus Midland (3-4, 2-4 GPAC).