SIOUX CITY, Iowa – On a snowy Saturday afternoon at Memorial Field in Sioux City, Iowa, the Concordia University football team completed the 2014 season by continuing its domination of Briar Cliff. Behind sophomore Demarques Saulberry and their punishing offensive line, the Bulldogs ran for 222 yards on the way to a 37-25 win over the host Chargers.
Seventh-year head coach Vance Winter’s squad concludes the campaign with records of 5-6 overall and 4-5 in GPAC play, putting it in a tie for sixth place in the final league standings. By piling up 426 total yards on Saturday, the Bulldogs finished 2014 with an average of 401.6 yards of offense per game, breaking the 2004 school record of 388.4.
“Demarques ran well. He really set the tone early on and busted some big runs,” Winter said. “It started up front with our o-line. They controlled things. They were very physical and Demarques did a great job finishing runs. He really played a good game.”
Saulberry became the third Bulldog to surpass 100 yards rushing in a single game this season. He reached the century mark in the first half and finished with 171 yards and his first career touchdown on 25 carries. His 33-yard first-quarter touchdown run gave Concordia a lead (9-6) that it would not relinquish.
The Bulldog offense operated at peak efficiency during a first half in which it outgained the Chargers, 316-100. Concordia really got going in the second quarter when it tacked on three touchdowns through the air (two via Von Thomas’ right arm and one from TJ Austin). Thomas connected on second-quarter touchdowns with receivers Logan Otte (26 yards) and Jared Garcia (12 yards). Fullback Josh Davis also caught his first of two touchdowns on the day in the second quarter.
“TJ and Von were really efficient,” Winter said. “We were hurt by some drops. We had too many of those. Both quarterbacks played well and handled the conditions really well. It was a tough day to throw but they were able to make some plays for us.”
Thomas, who started at quarterback in his final game as a Bulldog, capped the first half with the touchdown toss to Garcia, providing a comfortable 30-13 halftime margin. The score marked Garcia’s 11th touchdown catch of the season, breaking the previous school record of 10 touchdown receptions by Brian Naber in 1970.
While the sledding proved more difficult in the second half for the Bulldog offense, Thomas found Davis for an eight-yard touchdown catch with 8:08 left in the third quarter. Thomas completed 6 of 12 passes for 90 yards and three touchdown passes on the day. His program record-breaking single-season total of 21 touchdown passes put him at 49 for his career, tying the Bulldog record held by Jarrod Pimentel.
Led by senior defensive end Kyle Rakow, the Concordia defense allowed only 201 total yards to quarterback Kevin Van Egdom and the Charger offense. Van Egdom found the end zone from one yard out on two occasions in the fourth quarter to put Briar Cliff within shouting distance.
The Bulldog defense buckled down for the remainder of the game, holding Briar Cliff to a combined 20 total yards over its final three possessions. Junior safety Tait Sibbel, the reigning GPAC defensive player of the week, came through with another solid effort that included five tackles and an interception. Linebacker Nakemm Evans topped the team with eight tackles (2.5 for loss). Meanwhile, Rakow pushed his season tackle for loss total to 15.5 with two more at Briar Cliff.
Sophomore linebacker Michael Hedlund pitched in six tackles and had what Winter called the best hit he’s seen since he’s been at Concordia. Hedlund’s vicious collision with a Briar Cliff receiver led to Sibbel’s interception.
For the third-straight game, Austin took the bulk of the snaps at quarterback for coordinator Curran White’s offense. The native of Angleton, Texas, went 8-for-14 for 114 yards and one touchdown through the air.
The Bulldogs entered the day needing 46 points to break a school record for most points in a single season. The 2001 co-GPAC championship team retains the record with its total of 326 points. The 1951 Bulldogs own the program mark for points per game (32.0).
While this season fell short of high preseason expectations, Winter likes the returning nucleus he’ll have in 2015. The Bulldogs will have to retool along the offensive line with the departures of left tackle Glen Manninger, center Adam Aschenbrenner and right guard Josh Powell, but the skill positions are stocked. Austin, who got his feet wet at quarterback late in the season after Thomas suffered an injury, will have the talented receiving duo of Garcia and Otte and the backfield of Bryce Collins and Saulberry at his disposal.
“It’s been a frustrating season, but our future is bright,” Winter said. “I’m really excited about TJ and the skill people we have both offensively and defensively.”