SEWARD, Neb. – Following back-to-back defeats, the Concordia University Football team has had an extra week of preparation for Saturday’s clash with the perennial top football program in the GPAC. The Bulldogs should be refreshed having played just two games since Oct. 3. It will be senior day on Saturday when Concordia and Morningside meet up for the 19th matchup all-time. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. CT from Bulldog Stadium. Senior day festivities will take place prior to kickoff.
Fourth-year Head Coach Patrick Daberkow’s squad began this season at 4-0 before running into the league’s heavyweights. The Bulldogs have had time to iron out some of their mistakes from losses to Northwestern, 31-17, and Dordt, 41-14. Prior to those two defeats, Concordia earned wins over Doane, Hastings, Briar Cliff and Jamestown. The Bulldogs need one more victory to guarantee an above .500 season after enduring 3-7 campaigns in both 2018 and 2019.
Morningside is the program that everyone else in the league is gunning for. The Mustangs will carry an active conference winning streak of 49 into the weekend. That streak appeared in jeopardy this past Saturday at Dordt. Trailing 35-30, Dordt found itself with first and goal at the six-yard-line in the final couple of minutes. The threat ended when Tyler Wingert intercepted Noah Clayberg’s pass. As usual, Head Coach Steve Ryan’s squad is putting a lot of points on the board – an average of 50.0 per game. Morningside is led by junior quarterback Joe Dolincheck (ranked No. 2 nationally in passing yardage).
*2020 national rank in parentheses
NOTE: 51 of the 95 NAIA football programs that intend to play in 2020-21 have started their seasons.
Offensive PPG: 22.7 (27th)
Defensive PPG: 19.8 (T-11th)
Total Offense: 363.5 (21st)
Pass Offense: 218.8 (20th)
Rush Offense: 144.7 (26th)
Total Defense: 344.5 (26th)
Pass Defense: 217.2 (35th)
Rush Defense: 127.3 (20th)
Turnover +/-: 0 (T-26th)
Offensive PPG: 50.0 (3rd)
Defensive PPG: 16.5 (8th)
Total Offense: 527.5 (1st)
Pass Offense: 339.2 (2nd)
Rush Offense: 188.3 (14th)
Total Defense: 348.2 (27th)
Pass Defense: 260.3 (48th)
Rush Defense: 87.8 (8th)
Turnover +/-: +11 (2nd)
2020 INDIVIDUAL LEADERS
Head Coach: Patrick Daberkow (16-20, 4th season)
Passing: Blake Culbert – 92/186 (.495), 1,246 yards, 8 td, 3 int, 116.7 effic.
Rushing: Jonah Weyand – 107 rushes, 519 yards, 4.9 avg, 7 td
Receiving: Korrell Koehlmoos – 19 catches, 407 yards, 21.4 avg, 3 td
Defense: Caydren Cox – 27 tackles, 4 tfl’s, sack, int
Head Coach: Steven Ryan (192-36, 20th season)
Passing: Joe Dolincheck – 122/187 (.652), 1,890 yards, 20 td, 5 int, 180.1 effic.
Rushing: Arnijae Ponder – 110 rushes, 650 yards, 5.9 avg, 11 td; 10 catches, 140 yards
Receiving: Reid Jurgensmeier – 38 catches, 837 yards, 22.0 avg, 15 td
Defense: Niklas Gustav – 31 tackles, 9.5 tfl’s, 5.5 sacks
Concordia (4-2, 4-2 GPAC)
9/12 at Doane, W, 24-7
9/19 vs. Hastings, W, 34-28 (OT)
9/26 at Briar Cliff, W, 24-9
10/3 vs. Jamestown, W, 23-3
10/17 at Northwestern, L, 17-31
10/24 vs. Dordt, L, 14-41
11/7 vs. Morningside, 1 p.m.
11/14 at Midland, 1 p.m.
11/21 at Dakota Wesleyan, 1 p.m.
Morningside (6-0, 6-0 GPAC)
9/12 vs. Northwestern, W, 45-31
9/19 at Midland, W, 42-7
10/10 vs. Briar Cliff, W, 68-3
10/17 at Jamestown, W, 54-7
10/24 vs. Dakota Wesleyan, W, 56-21
10/31 at Dordt, W, 35-30
11/7 at Concordia, 1 p.m.
11/14 vs. Doane, 1 p.m.
11/21 vs. Hastings, 1 p.m.
Concordia’s fan protocols for Saturday’s game can be viewed HERE. Face coverings must be worn by fans in attendance. Fans of the Bulldogs are advised to check COVID-19 related protocols for each road venue prior to traveling for away contests.
In the rankings
The GPAC Preseason Football Coaches’ Poll was unveiled on Aug. 26. Concordia landed at No. 7 (37 points) while Morningside was placed first in the league (81 points; nine first-place votes). The poll resembled the final 2019 standings. The NAIA has not released a single national poll this year. In the current Massey Ratings, the Bulldogs appear at 31st while the Mustangs are No. 1. Concordia last appeared in the national rankings in the preseason of 2017 when it was rated 20th. Morningside spent the entire 2019 season at No. 1. The Mustangs won NAIA national titles in both 2018 and 2019.
GPAC preseason: 7th
Current Massey Ratings: 31st
GPAC preseason: 1st
Current Massey Ratings: 1st
Celebrating the senior class
Saturday will be the 2020 home finale for the Bulldogs, who will honor a group of 16 seniors during a pregame ceremony. In terms of accolades, the most decorated performers among the seniors is linebacker Lane Napier, who was named a first team All-American in 2018 when he led the entire NAIA in tackles. Napier is also a three-time first team All-GPAC honoree. Additional seniors such as receiver/punter Lane Castaneda and safety Peyton Mitchell have past all-conference awards to their credit. Other seniors who have been starters/significant contributors within the program are offensive lineman Cole Baumgartner, quarterback Blake Culbert (has another year of eligibility), tight end Brady Fitzke, defensive end Chase Hammons, defensive lineman Payton Kidder, linebacker Jorge Ochoa, fullback Chevy Stout and linebacker Stirling Tonniges.
Getting over the hump versus top 25 teams
Based on Massey Ratings and the @NAIAFBALL top 25, Concordia played a top 10 team in the NAIA in back-to-back weeks in Northwestern (8th in Massey / 10th in @NAIAFBALL at the time) and Dordt (No. 12 in Massey entering the matchup). After the loss to Northwestern, Coach Daberkow discussed the need to get over the hump against the conference’s elite opponents. The most recent win over a top 25 foe came on Sept. 23, 2017, when the Bulldogs toppled then seventh-ranked Doane, 29-18, on homecoming. Since then, every Concordia matchup with top 25 opponents has come against either Morningside or Northwestern (in official polls). The Mustangs would very likely be ranked No. 1 if there were to be an official NAIA poll.
Defense looks for rebound
The Bulldog defense endured its toughest day so far this season in the loss to Dordt. Concordia allowed more than 300 total yards in the first half and the 41 points scored by the Defenders were a season high for its opponents. Quarterback Noah Clayberg and company carved up a defense that has held three foes to single-digit point totals in 2020. Despite the rough outing versus Dordt, the overall numbers remain solid this season. The Bulldogs rank 11th nationally in scoring defense (19.8). The defense could get a boost this week with the healthy return of defensive end Chase Hammons (team high five sacks) and linebacker Lane Napier (2018 AP First Team All-American). Both starters were sidelined against Dordt.
Junior Garrett Schardt has really come into his own this season while becoming one of the top tight ends in the GPAC. The former Bruning-Davenport-Shickley High School standout has caught 18 passes for 309 yards and two touchdowns (all career single-season bests). Schardt has put together quite a highlight reel while routinely making tough catches over the middle. The Davenport, Neb., native made an impressive touchdown catch at Northwestern that saw him shake off a defender at the 20-yard-line and then sprint into the end zone. Daberkow has also complimented the improvement in Schardt’s run blocking. For his career, Schardt has 33 receptions for 563 yards and three touchdowns.
Weyand-Whitney RB duo
The running game hasn’t been quite as productive lately, but the duo of starter Jonah Weyand and backup Lyle Whitney has been solid. They have combined for 780 rushing yards and nine total touchdowns on 179 carries. Weyand has missed some time due to injury, but he carried the ball 42 combined times in the Northwestern/Dordt games. The Bulldogs would like to get back to running the ball like they did in week Nos. 1 and 2 when Weyand went off for 169 and 177 rushing yards, respectively. Last week, Whitney recorded 114 total yards and a touchdown (on a 57-yard pass reception).
Junior Korrell Koehlmoos is an important playmaker in the passing game and on kickoff return. The Pilger, Neb., native leads the entire NAIA in kickoff return yards (474) while averaging 22.6 yards per kick return. As a receiver, Koehlmoos has averaged 21.4 yards per catch on his 19 receptions (for 407 receiving yards). Koehlmoos has had a catch of 24 yards or longer in five-straight games (long of 61). His 24-yard touchdown reception versus Dordt got Concordia within 20-7 at the time. In his career, Koehlmoos has 85 receptions for 1,273 yards and eight touchdowns.
Depth at linebacker is a strength for Concordia – and it’s a good thing. The list of players to start at the position this season includes Caydren Cox, Shayne Campbell, Logan Kreizel, Lane Napier, Jorge Ochoa and Stirling Tonniges. At times this season, the Bulldogs have been without Napier and Ochoa. Concordia expects to have a healthy group on Saturday. Each of the six aforementioned linebackers have registered at least 19 tackles this season. Campbell leads the team with 31 stops. Cox has collected 27 tackles (four for loss), a sack and an interception. Napier has posted 370 tackles in 34 career games played as a Bulldog.
Three GPAC teams in playoff?
With a 16-team playoff format in the NAIA, there is not much margin for error. The GPAC appears to have a shot at landing two or three teams in the playoff that will begin in April 2021. The leading contenders within the conference are Morningside (6-0), Northwestern (5-1) and Dordt (5-2). For the Bulldogs to jump into that conversation, they would likely need an upset of the Mustangs and to win out. Any GPAC squad that can finish 7-2 or better will likely have an argument for being included in the playoff setup. Dordt may have helped itself last week simply by pushing Morningside all the way to the brink. In recent years, the GPAC has been a two-bid league.
Bulldog Stadium success
In order to get back near the top of the league standings, the Bulldogs have to protect their home turf. They are 2-1 this season at Bulldog Stadium after posting home marks of 2-3 in both 2018 and 2019. In the final game of the 2017 regular season, Morningside snapped what had been a 10-game home win streak for Concordia. Dating back to the start of the 2016 campaign, the Bulldogs own a home record of 15-8.
Series vs. Morningside
Morningside has won 17 of the first 18 meetings with Concordia. The Mustangs have won each of the past four matchups by margins of 35 points or greater. The Bulldogs competed much more favorably in 2013 (lost 48-31) and 2015 (lost 44-21). The ’15 matchup was actually much closer than the final score indicated (Morningside scored two touchdowns in the final 2:12). Concordia had the football on the Mustang 27 trailing 27-21 in the fourth quarter of that contest. The series history dates back to 2002. The lone Bulldog victory over Morningside occurred in 2003 in Seward. Since then, the Mustangs have triumphed in seven-straight trips to Bulldog Stadium.
No program in the GPAC has more of a mystique then the Mustangs, who won NAIA national titles in 2018 and 2019. Morningside has breezed past most of its 2020 opponents, with the exception of Northwestern (45-31 win) and Dordt (35-30 win). Per usual, Morningside has a prolific passing attack. At the controls is Joe Dolincheck, who has thrown for 71 career touchdown passes. Dolincheck can also feed the rock to running back Arnijae Ponder, who has 4,815 rushing yards and 69 total touchdowns in his collegiate career. Statistically, the one area of weakness on the team has been its pass defense, which has surrendered 260.3 passing yards per game. That number has been negated largely by the opportunistic nature of a Mustang defense that has picked off 15 passes (tied for second most in the NAIA). Now in year 20 at the helm of the program, Head Coach Steve Ryan has built a monster that has not shown any signs of slowing down. It may be hard to believe now, but Morningside football had enjoyed precious few successful seasons prior to the GPAC era.