October 31, 2012

Cobbers gear up for big game

More news about: Concordia-Moorhead | Northwestern (Minn.)
Concordia-Moorhead has one loss and can't afford another before Selection Sunday.
Concordia-Moorhead athletics photo

After being stunned three games ago at Bethel, 15-14 on the last play of the game on an untimed down, Concordia-Moorhead has rebounded to put itself in big-game time Saturday. The Cobbers host No. 4 St. Thomas in a MIAC showdown with high playoff implications.

"We told our kids, the margin for error is zero," Concordia-Moorhead coach Terry Horan said. "We're guaranteed six more practices and we want to continue on."

The Cobbers would have all but guaranteed extra practices with the win against the Royals, but Horan, who is a member of the Division III football championships committee and knows full well his team’s slim chances at an at-large bid with a loss, has rallied his team for this week's showdown.

"They're all really level-headed young men," Horan said. "We pulled this team together and we rebounded. That was a bitter pill to swallow."

Concordia-Moorhead responded by scoring 162 points in its past three wins.

"We've been consistent, we've been executing and we've staying healthy," Horan said. "And kids have just been making plays and that's been helping us."

Sophomore Griffin Neal leads the way at quarterback with 1,300 yards through the air on 79-of-129 passing. He also has 16 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Running back Brett Baune adds 884 yards on the ground on 154 carries and nine touchdowns. The Cobbers feature a big-play target at wide receiver as Mark Whiting has 17 catches for 474 yards for a whopping 27.4 yards and seven touchdowns.

They'll need all of their weapons on hand against the Tommies, who haven't lost a MIAC game in 26 tries.

"They are the champions until somebody proves differently," Horan said. "They've got a lot of depth."

Case in point on Saturday when St. Thomas starting quarterback Matt O'Connell went down with an injury. Ben Duncan and Kyler Anderson took care of business as the Tommies (8-0) stopped Augsburg 30-14.

"They're deep, really deep," Horan said. "And they're deeper more than any team in the league. It’s a juggernaut right now and they're well coached. They have really taken off and certainly have been dominating, even in the national realm of things. This would be a big victory if we could get these guys."

Northwestern rebounds from tough times

A UMAC title for Northwestern seemed highly unlikely two seasons ago with a lowly 1-8 record. The Eagles are soaring their way closer this year. A win over Greenville Saturday would clinch the league title, a loss would give them a piece of the crown with Greenville and St. Scholastica and a murky playoff outlook.

"They've come a long way," Northwestern coach Kirk Talley said. "Things are different for a reason. I give a lot of credit to our seniors."

The Eagles improved to 6-4 last season and began to work towards this year where they have won the past eight after a opening loss to St. John's.

"They've certainly fought through a lot of things," Talley said. "Over the last few years, for them to be able to put themselves in position. We have a minimum share of the conference and nobody can take that away."

The road to the league title would've been a little tougher if the Eagles would've stumbled last week against Eureka. Northwestern squeaked out a 21-17 win.

 "We had our backs against the walls quite a bit of time in the second half," Talley said.

Josh Sinnen led the Eagles on the ground with 115 yards on 14 carries and a touchdown. Through the air, quarterback Josh Balzer completed 13 of 22 passes for 243 yards and a touchdown. His main target was Brian Lecheler, who caught four passes for 70 yards and a score.

Balzer is a key cog of the 14 seniors on the Eagles squad.

"He's not a vocal kid, but he certainly has a ton of respect by the team," Talley said.

And now Blazer and the rest of the seniors will see if they can bring home a title against a tough Greenville team.

"They have a very established program," said Talley, who once coached there. "We played them in a bowl game in 2000. It was a very good game. They all have been close games."

Behind the number

2001

The last time UW-Whitewater lost two games in a row prior to losing 17-14 to UW-Stevens Point on Saturday and to UW-Oshkosh the previous week. The three-time defending national champions will not have a chance to repeat as they will miss the playoffs for the first time since 2004.
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