SEWARD, Neb. – Due to an injury suffered two weeks ago, record-breaking quarterback Von Thomas played only sparingly on senior day, but he did check into the lineup late to take one final kneel. In doing so, he put the finishing touch on a 27-19 Concordia University football win over No. 24 Dakota Wesleyan University (6-4, 4-4 GPAC) on Saturday afternoon.
The win was sweet relief for a team that had lost four-consecutive games, with most of those coming in agonizing fashion. Head coach Vance Winter’s Bulldogs moved to 4-6 overall and 3-5 in the GPAC.
“It’s really gratifying to see our seniors have a great result in their last home game because these guys have meant a lot to our program and to us,” Winter said. “I was really happy to see that. It wasn’t always pretty, but the guys continued to fight. We made enough plays at the end. I was really proud of our offense, finishing the day with the football.”
For the second-straight game, redshirt freshman TJ Austin saw extensive action at quarterback. He completed 9 of 16 passes for 149 yards while running for 76 yards on 14 attempts. He fired a strike to fellow redshirt freshman Jared Garcia for a 46-yard touchdown in the second quarter, making it 17-0 Bulldogs.
Austin again had tough-as-nails running back Bryce Collins to lean upon, as well as a defense that forced four Tiger turnovers. Collins ran for 127 yards on 26 totes to become the fifth player in program history to eclipse 1,000 yards rushing in a season. He also caught a 36-yard pass that set up Adam Meirose’s first of two short field goals on the day.
Austin, who has been mentored by Thomas, turned in another solid performance while taking most of the snaps in the pistol spread.
“My coaches and my team had a lot of faith in me,” Austin said. “I couldn’t ask for a better o-line. They gave me everything I needed to do my job. And I have a great running back in the backfield and great receivers that catch and block.”
The Bulldog defense got Concordia on the board first when junior safety Tait Sibbel scooped up a Francois Barnaud fumble and returned it 41 yards for a touchdown at the 4:08 mark of the first quarter. Sibbel was also one of three Bulldogs to pick off a pass in the first half. Michael Hedlund and Landon Oelke also got into the act. Oelke’s interception ended a Tiger red zone drive late in the first quarter.
“In the first half our defense was just lights out,” Winter said. “Dakota Wesleyan is a good football team. Offensively they just have a bunch of guys who know how to win. They’ve figured out how to win close games. We knew it was going to be tough at the end. I was proud of our defense today.”
After trailing 27-7, Dakota Wesleyan made the game tense late thanks to fourth-quarter touchdowns on Dillon Turner’s 11-yard toss to Dustin Livingston and John Fabrizius’ three-yard scoring run.
But the Tigers failed to get the ball back as Concordia ran 12 plays to milk the final 6:05 of game time. All four first downs on the final drive came via Austin quarterback keepers. The combo of Austin and Collins combined for 203 yards on the ground.
On the other side of the ball, the Concordia defense held Tiger all-time leading rusher Francois Barnaud to 44 yards on 15 carries. His longest rush all day was eight yards. Dakota Wesleyan ended up with a 380-358 advantage in total yards.
Oelke topped the Bulldog defense with eight tackles. Sibbel added seven to go with his interception and fumble return touchdown. Other than the two Dakota Wesleyan fourth-quarter touchdown drives, there was little about the defense that disappointed.
“Coach (Patrick) Daberkow had a game plan set since Monday,” Oelke said. “We stuck to it. We had some drops in coverage that the quarterback wasn’t ready for. It worked out well for us.”
The Bulldogs will conclude the 2014 season next Saturday when they play Briar Cliff in Sioux City, Iowa, at 1 p.m. On Saturday, Briar Cliff (2-8, 2-6 GPAC) fell, 20-0, at Doane. Concordia has won each of the last seven meetings with the Chargers, including last season’s 45-7 blowout in Seward.