Concordia Cobbers Stave-Off Johnnies Comeback to Win 23-14
Both the Concordia Cobbers and the St. John’s Johnnies opened conference play on Saturday in showdown of early season undefeateds. The Cobbers rolled into half-time feeling pretty good about their chances of grabbing a big road victory. It was 16-0, and the Johnnies seemed to have no answers to figure out the Concordia defense on this day. However, a half-time break brought new like to St. John’s and brought momentum that nearly swept away a victory for the Cobbers.
Concordia College took command of the game from their opening drive. Starting from their own 31, the Cobbers began a methodical drive that went 62 yards in 7:40 where they settled for a 23-yard field goal from Ben Wagner for the 3-0 lead. Concordia ran the ball 10 times on the drive, with QB Griffin Neal having three carries for 10 yards and completing 2 of 5 passes for 24 more. The drive kept the Johnnies defense on the field for a long time, which would pay dividends for Concordia as the first-half wore on.
Following the field goal, Evan Clark returned the kick-off 47 yards, giving St. John’s great field position at the Concordia 47. However, the Johnnies could not generate any offense and were forced to punt. Griffin Toomey had a perfect kick that was downed at the three yard line, which set up the Johnnies defense to get the ball back for their offense with great field position. This was not meant to be.
Led by Neal, the Cobbers began another lengthy drive, this time moving 79 in 13 plays, and swallowing nearly five minutes of the game clock. Concordia was actually in position to score again when Neal was stripped of the ball by Mitch Tauer and Ryan Michaelis recovered it to give the Johnnies the ball at their own 21.
A seven play drive would result in another punt, and this time the Cobbers would not be denied. Starting from their own 14, Neal guided the team down the field for a 13-play drive that ate up 6:09 on the clock and resulted in a touchdown when Neal scored from four yards out. Concordia went for two, and was not successful, making the score 9-0.
After the Johnnies offense was shut down again, the Cobbers got the ball at their own 18, and began another lengthy drive. This time 9 plays, covering 82 yards in 3:41. The drive began as methodical as the others had, but a Neal pass to Jon Baune, where he made a few moves to free himself and score, sped the scoring up. The 45-yard strike made the score 16-0, and it looked like the game was over at half.
The Johnnies gave up two touchdowns in the second quarter, and it was easy to see why. They were simply wearing down on defense. In the first four possessions, the Cobbers held onto the ball for 22:26 seconds. That is almost 75 percent of the half and explains why the Johnnies were unable to keep Neal from hurting them. Their tanks were just empty.
Half-time gave them a chance to get rejuvenated and recharged, and the Johnnies came out of the locker room fired up and ready to play. On their first possession of the second half it was their turn to play the methodical, clock-eating drive. Beginning at their own 20, they marched 80 yards in 10 plays, where Johnny Benson hit Dan Harrington for an eight yard touchdown strike.
Concordia looked to answer with another methodical drive. They moved 44 yards in 4:38, but Wagner missed a 36-yard field goal and the score remained 16-7.
With the ball back in their hands at their own 20, Benson and running back Sam Sura led the team on another 80-yard drive that eclipsed 3:56 on the clock. Most importantly, a four yard pass from Benson to Zack Sundly made it a two-point game and the momentum had clearly shifted to St. John’s.
If the Cobbers were going to quell this momentum it would take another clock-eating drive to do so. That was exactly what they did.
With 1:19 left in the third quarter, Concordia got the ball at their own 28. From there they moved 72 yards in 15 plays, using up 7:40 of the game clock, before Neal kept the ball and plunged into the end zone for the one yard score.
That touchdown was the dagger for the Johnnies. There was still 8:27 left in the game, but they were now down by two scores, and the Cobbers defense rose to the challenge.
St. John’s got the ball at their 16, and on a second and nine play, Benson completed a pass to J. T. Ford for 16 yards and a first down at the St. John’s 33, however things would go bad for the Johnnies from there. Benson was sacked on the first down play for a five-yard loss. On second and 15 he completed a 10 yard pass to Dan Harrington, and on third and five the Johnnies got two yards on a screen pass to Sura. That brought up fourth and three at the team’s own 40. They had to go for it with just 5:44 left on the clock, but Benson’s pass to Sura fell incomplete, turning the ball over on downs and sealing the victory for Concordia.
While the scoreboard depicted a close contest, this was a game that was dominated by the Cobbers. They had 448 yards of total offense to St. John’s 248, and ran 37 more offensive plays. Concordia had 200 yards on the ground while St. John’s had just 95, and the time-of-possession swung heavily in the Cobbers favor, 40:10 to 19:50.
Neal had a big day for Concordia College, completing 18 of 32 passes for 248 yards and a touchdown, while also gaining 58 yards on 20 carries, including two scores. After leading the MIAC in rushing two weeks into the season with 449 yards, Sura was held to just 93 yards rushing for St. John’s.
The Cobbers move to 3-0 on the season, and have a great chance of moving to 4-0 as they welcome the 0-3 St. Olaf Oles next week. St. John’s will visit the undefeated St. Thomas Tommies next Saturday.
By Robert Pannier
Senior Writer Covering the MIAC