SEWARD, Neb. – No. 25 Concordia came out clicking offensively and put a scare into top-ranked Morningside inside Bulldog Stadium on Saturday. After trailing at halftime for the first time all season, the Mustangs (8-0, 7-0 GPAC) roared back for a 48-31 victory in their closest contest of the season. The Bulldogs fell to 6-3 overall and 4-3 in GPAC action.
Head coach Vance Winter’s squad showed off a high-flying offense in the first half when Concordia piled up 219 of its 364 total yards for the game. Junior quarterback Von Thomas opened things through the air with freshman receiver Chevarius Curry-Felix running free in the secondary and first-year back Bryce Collins (67 rushing yards, three touchdowns) pounding out yards on the ground.
“Offensively we came out and really made some plays,” Winter said. “That’s the biggest thing is our guys made plays.
“We had a really nice half. We moved the football running and throwing. We were able to be really balanced. We had some good things going into halftime.”
Curry-Felix, who moved into the starting lineup on Saturday for the injured Jeff Balz, had a breakout day with five catches for 87 yards and a touchdown. Thomas, 20-for-36 passing for 248 yards and a touchdown, looked to Curry-Felix early and often.
“It was all about preparation and practice all week,” Curry-Felix said. “We practiced hard all week. We came out with a game plan and we tried to stick to the game plan. We just had a few things that didn’t go our way.”
Curry-Felix joined other freshmen like Collins and Trey Barnes as part of a young and talented group of skill players that impressed on Saturday.
“We have a lot of young skill guys,” Winter said. “We have freshmen running backs – freshmen receivers. Those guys all can play. It’s exciting to watch their development week in and week out. It’s no coincidence, Chavy had an awesome week of practice so we felt like he was going to have a great game.”
Morningside did not take its first lead until driving 55 yards for a touchdown to begin the second half. Sophomore running back Brandon Wegher scurried into the end zone from 10 yards out to edge the Mustangs in front, 27-24.
Wegher (game high 158 rushing yards on 20 attempts) and company wore down the Bulldog defense in the second half. The potent trio of Wegher, running back Jon Halvorson and quarterback Ryan Kasdorf combined for 262 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. Kasdorf added 261 passing as Morningside piled up 541 total yards, coming in about 60 yards short of its season average entering the game.
The Bulldogs showed they meant business on their opening possession of the game, driving 64 yards on 10 plays for a touchdown. Junior receiver Brian Serra made a circus catch on his back for a 33-yard gain at the one-yard line to set up Bryce Collins’ first touchdown on the day. After sophomore Tait Sibbel’s interception halted the Mustang’s first drive, Concordia went to work and added a 37-yard field goal from Adam Meirose to make it 10-0.
The teams traded blows throughout a first half that the Bulldogs led for more than 25 minutes. Concordia built its lead back to 10 points twice following Morningside touchdowns. Thomas zipped a 34-yard touchdown pass to a wide open Curry-Felix to convert on a fourth and 20 late in the first, making it 17-7. Midway through the second, Collins broke a tackle at the line of scrimmage and raced 22 yards to the end zone for a 24-14 advantage.
After last week’s lackluster performance in a 28-7 home loss to Doane, Winter liked the way his team responded against a squad that had won each of its first seven games by 25 points or more.
“I was proud of our preparation during the week and how locked in we were,” Winter said. “That’s how it’s got to be all the time in how we practice and prepare. That’s what gave us a chance today.”
Senior safety Darnell Woods had a busy day making stops in the secondary. He piled up a career high 17 tackles (12 solo). Sibbel’s interception boosted his team-leading count to four. He also added seven tackles as part of Concordia’s impressive safety tandem.
The Bulldogs will play on the road for the final time this season when they travel to Mitchell, S.D., to take on Dakota Wesleyan (6-3, 5-2 GPAC) next Saturday at 1 p.m. The Tigers defeated Nebraska Wesleyan 31-17 in Mitchell on Saturday afternoon. Last season Concordia came up short, 26-23, against Dakota Wesleyan in a game played in Seward.