Ground Attack, Defense Leads Concordia Cobbers to 41-21 Win
The Concordia Cobbers looked like they were going to dominate their road contest against Augsburg, when two early scores put them ahead 14-0, however, a kick return for a touchdown following the second touchdown seemed to take the wind out of the sails of the Cobbers and allowed the Auggies to get back into the game. The game quickly turned, making it look like Augsburg may pull an upset on this day, but a punishing ground attack and a stifling defense took control in the second-half and led the Moorhead team to a 41-21 victory.
The Cobbers took the opening kickoff and began their drive from their own 14 following a holding penalty. Concordia moved the ball 39 yards on the first four plays, all runs by four different ball carriers. QB Griffin Neal then completed two of three passes to move the ball to the Augsburg 27, where the Cobbers went back to the ground. Four more rushing plays led to a touchdown when Alex McLean scored from two yards out to stake Concordia to a 7-0 lead.
Two possessions later the Cobbers were back on the board, led by their quarterback. The first three plays were rushes, with Domenic Fraboni gaining 24-yards on the third play of the drive. Neal was then sacked for a three-yard loss, but on second and 13 from the 38-yard line, Neal found running back Zach Southwick down the seam for the touchdown and a 14-0 Cobbers lead.
It was looking like it was going to be a blow out, but the kickoff following the score changed the game. Isiah Malone took the ball at his own 11-yard line and found day light, going all the way for the score, and giving Augsburg new life.
The Auggies defense fed off the score, shutting down Neal on the Cobbers next possession and forcing a punt after a three-n-out. Augsburg QB Ayrton Scott then led the team on a nine-play, 78-yard drive that resulted in a seven-yard pass in the corner of the end zone to Joey Sonnenfeld to tie the game. Scott completed his last five passes of the drive for 75 yards and also rushed twice for 15 yards.
The score remained tied at half, and with Augsburg receiving the opening kickoff of the second-half, it looked like the Auggies had everything going their way. However, the Concordia defense came out of the break fired up and forced a punt after five plays.
Starting from their own 23, the Cobbers turned to their ground game, and riding their four-headed team of backs and their quarterback, Neal ran the triple option to perfection moving the ball down the field in seven-plays, where Southwick scored from two-yards out to put Concordia back on top.
The euphoria didn’t last long on the Concordia bench as Undre Smith-Brewer took the kickoff 60 yards before finally being tackled at the Concordia 24-yard line. Scott worked quickly throwing a pass to Erickson Saye on the first play of the drive that Saye hauled in for the score tying the game again.
A momentum changing return like that had hurt the Cobbers earlier in the season in a loss at Bethel when the Royals Brandon Marquardt returned a kickoff for a score following a Concordia touchdown, and the team didn’t rebound from that. Saturday, Neal professed this was not going to be the case. “We gave up two big special teams plays today, and earlier when we gave up a touchdown against Bethel on a kickoff return we seemed to lose our momentum, but not today. Today we stuck with it and got great plays from our defense and outstanding blocking from our offensive line. We were not going to let one or two plays change the outcome of this one.”
Neal’s words proved to be correct and it was Southwick who really carried the team on their next drive. On the second play of the drive he had a 12-yard carry before finally being forced out of bounds, and on the next play he caught a pass from Neal that he turned into a 34-yard gain to the Augsburg 25. Two plays later he took a sweep to his left, shook a couple of tacklers and scored to make it 28-21. It was a lead they would not relinquish again.
The next Concordia drive saw the team go 75-yards in 13-plays, running 7:19 off of the clock. Ten of the 13 plays were runs, including a stretch of eight in a row at one point. Neal’s pass to Rick Hutchinson capped off the drive with a 23-yard score and increased the lead to 13.
Concordia would add one more score when Alex McLean had a 60-yard dash for a touchdown in which he found a huge hole and took it to the house. It was the second touchdown carry of the day for McLean and the fourth of the day for the team. The running backs had all the touchdowns in fact, with Southwick and Hutchinson adding touchdown receptions as well.
While the offense was pounding the ball on their way to four second-half touchdowns, the defense was shutting down and smothering the Auggies offense. The Cobbers got incredible play out of their defense. Defensive lineman Nate Adams proved why he is one of the most dominant players in the conference, recording a sack, a tipped pass and a fumble recovery during just one Augsburg possession. Erik Bye intercepted a Scott pass in the red zone to end one Augsburg drive, and the team made several outstanding plays to keep the Auggies out of the end zone. On the day the Cobbers defense finished with two sacks, two forced fumbles, two interceptions and seven pass break-ups. It was truly an outstanding performance.
Neal did not have a huge day passing, going just 12-18 for 173 yards with two touchdowns, but he operated the triple option attack like a true maestro. He also gained 56 yards on the ground, and read the defense for the pitch incredibly well all day. While happy with the win, the Cobbers quarterback found his performance a little disappointing by his standards. “I missed some key passes, and the running game really bailed me out today. They just took over in the second half and took control of the game.”
While his performance was not disappointing by any standard, the QB is correct in the production of his running game. Concordia finished with 378 yards rushing, with five ball carriers gaining at least 52-yards. McLean led the team with 119 yards on 17 carries and Southwick finished with 71 yards on 10 runs. The 7.0 per carry average was indicative of how dominant the offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage, a sentiment that Cobbers Coach Terry Horan was happy to talk about. “Following the kick return for the touchdown, we were losing some of our momentum, despite the fact that we were dominating the game for the most part. In the second half our offensive line just took over. They made holes and did a great job of protecting Griffin (Neal). A huge key to the victory.”
It was a huge victory, especially with the team closing the season at St. Thomas and at home against Gustavus Adolphus. They have won their last two games entering this upcoming week’s game against Hamline, and the team seems much more confident following the victory over the Auggies. “Augsburg is a good team,” defensive stand out Matt Ahrnt began, “but we came away with a huge win, and that gives us a lot of momentum against Hamline next week. We know we have a great team here, and the effort of our defense today adds confidence moving forward.”
Coach Horan sees this game as a confidence booster too, giving the team added confidence for a post-season bid. “We played very well today, and showed that we can make plays when we need to. Three more to go, and 9-1 with make the playoffs, so we just have to keep taking care of business.”
The Cobbers host the 2-4 Hamliine Pipers next Saturday. Augsburg travels to 1-6 St. Olaf to face the Oles, hoping to get back into the win column.
By Robert Pannier