LIBERTY, Mo. – Behind a second-quarter splurge, the visiting Bulldog football team silenced the William Jewell College faithful on the way to a 30-15 season-opening victory. The Bulldogs kicked off the 2013 season in style under the lights at Greene Stadium in Liberty, Mo., on a rare Thursday night clash.
“It was a good win,” Winter said. “There were so many ebbs and flows in the game. We really started off well. We had a lull from the end of the second quarter to midway through the fourth quarter. I thought our defense really stepped up and made some huge plays.”
On this night there were no gaudy individual statistics as many Bulldog players came through with big plays. There was Derek Blessing’s long punt return, Jeff Balz’s touchdown on a trick play, Darnell Woods’ one-handed interception in the red zone and Von Thomas’ key third-down connection with junior Deshawn Eure on the final touchdown drive.
“I hope we can continue that,” Winter said, referring to the team’s second-quarter play. “We caught some breaks. We made a big play on special teams. Derek made a big return. We got a few turnovers. That was where the momentum changed. We did a good job capitalizing on some things in the second quarter.”
For the game, Concordia outgained William Jewell 362-301, led by an efficient night for Thomas (15-for-22 with 168 yards passing). The Bulldogs also showed off a nice stable of young backs with freshmen Trey Barnes and Bryce Collins combining to score three of the team’s four touchdowns.
“Bryce Collins running the ball at the end was just physical,” Winter said. “He’s got a great future. Mitch Reed got hurt early and I thought our two running backs – Trey Barnes and Bryce Collins – played outstanding and were very physical running the ball.”
Concordia took a 3-0 lead into the second quarter, and that’s when the fun really began. On their third offensive possession, the Bulldogs used 12 plays to drive 70 yards, capping it off with a two-yard touchdown plunge by freshman running back Trey Barnes at the 9:23 mark of the quarter.
Sophomore tight end Josh Slechta, a potential breakout star in 2013, caught a key 14-yard pass on the game’s first touchdown drive following a Barnes 12-yard scamper that converted on a third and three. Senior wide out Jeff Balz also turned a short pass to the flat from quarterback Von Thomas into a 18-yard gain that set up a first and goal.
Barnes, a product of Seward High School, got on the board again with another two-yard touchdown run with 5:34 left in the half, making it 17-0. The bruising Bulldog barreled into the end zone as Concordia took advantage of Blessing’s 38-yard punt return that set up a first and goal.
But the Bulldogs weren’t done yet. Offensive coordinator Curran White pulled out his bag of tricks with a wide receiver reverse that resulted in a nifty 14-yard touchdown run by senior Jeff Balz to finish off a swift four-play, 49-yard drive. A stunned home crowd saw Concordia up 23-0 with 3:25 remaining in the first half in a dominant quarter by Winter’s squad.
“It’s something we’ve been practicing for a while,” Balz said of the reverse. “We just got out there and Coach White had confidence in it. My blockers got out there in front and I just wasn’t going to be denied.”
However, the Cardinals eventually settled in and even made it a one-score game late in the third quarter when Thomas Cook raced 70 yards up the left sideline for a punt return touchdown. William Jewell added a two-point conversion, suddenly pulling within 23-15.
Concordia finally put the game away with a terrific 12-play, 76-yard drive on its final possession. It ended when Collins broke the goal line on a two-yard run with only :53 left on the clock. That score provided the final 15-point margin.
The key play of the drive came on a third-and-eight from the Concordia 36. Thomas dropped back and fired a 39-yard completion to Eure, a junior college transfer, to help put the game on ice.
The game-clinching drive came on the heels of another important stop from the defense, which showed off a playmaking secondary. Woods made a highlight reel interception with one hand in the red zone and senior John Lee thwarted a fourth-quarter drive with a pick of his own.
“I didn’t even know it was one-handed,” Woods said of his interception. “I just saw the ball, saw the intended receiver and made a play on it. The ball just popped up and my eyes were big for it and I snagged it.”
Winter improved to 2-3 in season openers. His previous season opening win came on Aug. 28, 2010, when the Bulldogs upset then No. 22 Peru State on the road.
Slechta had a big first half with four catches for 57 yards. Defensively, Concordia was led by Woods' 11 total tackles. Linebacker Langston Jones made eight stops.
William Jewell College is a member of the Great Lakes Valley Conference of NCAA Division II. The Cardinals went 2-9 overall last season.
UP NEXT: Concordia will host its home opener on Saturday, Sept. 14 with Hastings College serving as the opponent. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. on a night that will feature the first usage of the new video board inside Bulldog Stadium. The late Derek Rodine, a Concordia football alum who died in a car accident in late July, will be honored with a special tribute video.
Friedrich wins president’s challenge: As a result of the Bulldog victory, Concordia president Brian Friedrich claimed his own victory in a friendly challenge with William Jewell president David Sallee. Friedrich will be treated to Kansas City barbecue courtesy of Sallee.