SEWARD, Neb. – New NAIA national rankings released on Wednesday afternoon included one Bulldog at each of the first four weights in the lineup. On Wednesday night Concordia’s highly-regarded performers validated those rankings in leading a new-look squad to a breezy 39-7 victory over NCAA Division III Buena Vista University, the alma mater of Bulldog second-year head coach Dana Vote.
Vote, who will lean heavily upon the lower weights throughout this season, got the falls he was seeking from his stars.
“I’m excited. The lower guys know they have to carry this team and they go out and they fight,” Vote said. “I said, ‘guys we want to come out and look for pins’ and we did. We had four pins on the night. Our guys just came out to fight and that’s what we’re looking for.”
The Bulldogs raced out to a virtually insurmountable 24-0 lead as they debuted a lineup with all newcomers. Concordia pumped up the large Walz crowd with eighth-ranked Austin Mogg (125), No. 12 Emilio Rivera (133) and No. 15 Foster Bunce (141) all winning by fall, and No. 9 Enrique Barajas (149) picking up a forfeit victory due to an open weight.
Mogg, a former All-American at Buena Vista with 92 career victories as a Beaver, needed 3:59 to secure the pin of Percy Stiles (4-2). Mogg, an El Reno, Okla., native overmatched his opponent from the beginning in jumping out to a 7-3 lead after the first period with two takedowns and three near-fall points. Mogg nearly finished off Stiles in the first period before nailing him to the mat midway through the second period.
It was a satisfying effort in front of several former teammates.
“It was kind of tough because they’re all my friends,” Mogg said. “I was kind of nervous going into it but we went in the locker room and they all came up to me and were saying ‘hey, Mogg, how are you doing?’ It was just like I was back at home so I knew there was no tension there but once we hit the mat it was going to be a little tougher.”
Rivera, a native of Escondido, Calif., notched his team-leading eighth win of the season in similar fashion. He recorded two first-period takedowns and another in the second before flattening Carlos Barreda. Bunce, a freshman from Munith, Mich., followed with his third pin on the young season and Concordia was well on its way.
“I really liked how they went out and showed heart,” Mogg said. “They were nervous too but they knew they were supposed to go out and do their best and they did.”
At 197, freshman Ken Burkhardt Jr. of Milford, Neb., showed plenty of heart by coming back in the final seconds of the third period. Trailing 5-4 to Demetrius Heard with under 10 seconds left in the bout, Burkhardt Jr. unleashed a takedown and then two back points for good measure to pull out an 8-5 decision.
“Up and down the lineup everybody competed,” Vote said. “Every guy came out with fight. We knew there were going to be some tough matches and some of those matches we just out-gutted guys. At 197 Burkhardt was losing the entire match and takes the guy down with five seconds left to win. We just stress every day that we’ve got to wrestle for seven minutes.”
The night was particularly special as well for Seward native Austin Fehlhafer in his first collegiate match in his hometown. The two-time Nebraska high school state runner up delivered the quickest pin of the night by finishing off Tyler Puls after only 1:04 elapsed, pushing his team-leading pin total to four on the season.
Concordia’s two additional wins came at 157 and 184. At 157, Hailey, Idaho, freshman Tommy Bailey came up just short of a major with an 8-1 decision and Noel Richardson (Junction City, Kan.) won by the same margin with a 9-2 victory at 184.
Heavyweight Ceron Francisco, who dropped a narrow decision, provided the most crowd-pleasing moment when he body-slammed the Beavers’ Gable Bonner in the first period. However, the move was ruled illegal and Francisco found himself down 5-0 after three minutes of action.
All in all, it was a good first dual showing for Vote’s Bulldogs.
“I definitely think we’re moving in the right direction,” Vote said. “It’s a slow process. It’s going to take some time, but each day we practice to get a little bit better and focus on moving forward all the time. The guys are starting to believe. I can see it each time we step out.”
The improvements have not gone unnoticed by Bulldog fans, who made Walz an intimidating place on Wednesday. Both Vote and Mogg acknowledged the fans following the match.
“The crowd was amazing. It was a great environment,” Vote said. “The crowd really got into it and we just want to keep building on that because our guys feed off it.”
The Bulldogs will be back in action on Saturday at the University of Nebraska-Kearney Holiday Inn Open. They will be return home to host No. 18 York on Dec. 5 at 7:30 p.m. Concordia’s match will be preceded that night by a prep dual pitting Seward High School against York High School at 6 p.m.