FREMONT, Neb. – The Concordia University men’s soccer program is out to prove that last year was no fluke. In Tuesday night’s GPAC semifinal clash in Fremont, the third-seeded Bulldogs jumped out to a 3-0 lead and then held on for a 3-2 upset of 13th-ranked Midland. The outcome came almost exactly a year after Concordia celebrated a penalty kick shootout semifinal victory on the same Heedum Field turf.
Ninth-year head coach Jason Weides has fostered a team of believers.
“They were confident. Our guys prepared really well and were focused on our goal of getting back to the conference championship,” Weides said. “Midland is a very good team, but we also knew that it was one of our weaker performances when we played them during the regular season. We were excited to get another opportunity.”
Of course nothing has come easy during the program’s active five-game unbeaten run in GPAC postseason games. Concordia needed only two goals in 2015 during its tournament championship run of nailbiters. It looked like it might be different this time around when Toby Down pushed the lead to 3-0 with a goal in the 62nd minute.
But Harrison Rogers got Midland on the board roughly 10 minutes later and suddenly the Warriors sprung to life. The second Midland goal quickly followed as delivered by Ali Sodal. There would be no breathing easy over the final minutes. Said Weides, “Credit to them. They really fought hard and didn’t give up. Once they got that first goal we were a little bit on our heels and Midland got a lot of energy obviously.”
Weides and his squad had sweat out several late chances produced by Midland, but Concordia did just enough behind senior goalkeeper Mark Horsburgh, who saved the Bulldogs’ bacon on more than one instance. Horsburgh made 10 saves on the night while helping Concordia overcome a 27-13 disadvantage in shots.
“It feels amazing,” Down said. “We set a goal at the beginning of the season to get back. We’ve done it. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy. We fought together and we talked about being together. We knew that was going to carry us through.”
Continuing his stellar postseason, junior Lewis Rathbone helped the Bulldogs (11-6-2) get out to a quick start when he headed in his third goal in two games off a free kick struck by Marcelo Hernandez. It was a big offensive night for Hernandez, who put Concordia up 2-0 with a goal less than four minutes into the second half. He also assisted Down’s goal that proved to be the game winner.
The final seconds ticked away with the ball in the hands of Horsburgh, who had one final denial up his sleeve. After shaking hands with Midland players, the Bulldogs embraced their group of traveling fans and celebrated a feat that no longer feels like a shock to anyone inside the program.
“It’s exciting to have those expectations to be here competing for this year-in and year-out,” Weides said. “That’s what we’re trying to do now from here on forward. It’s built on the backs of every other Bulldog that’s ever put on a jersey – guys who have bled for us and sweat for us and worked hard to improve our program.”
Concordia now gets set for another rematch. Friday’s GPAC championship game will be at second-ranked Hastings (19-0), which remained undefeated by fending off Morningside, 4-2, in the other semifinal on Tuesday. Kickoff on Friday is set for 7 p.m. CT. The Bulldogs would be thrilled to duplicate their 1-0 upset victory at Hastings in the 2015 GPAC championship game.
Said Down, “The second time around is always harder, but we’re up for the challenge.”