Concordia's 1-2 punch overruns record-setting Bulldogs
UMD's football team was not erased from the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference championship picture by Saturday's loss to Concordia of St. Paul, and it shouldn't have even been a big surprise that the Golden Knights pinned a 37-27 setback on...
UMD's football team was not erased from the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference championship picture by Saturday's loss to Concordia of St. Paul, and it shouldn't have even been a big surprise that the Golden Knights pinned a 37-27 setback on the Bulldogs. The surprise was how they did it.
UMD had a lot of big things going on its behalf. Ricky Fritz and Steve Battaglia dazzled a homecoming crowd of 4,632 at Griggs Field with an 85-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the game, and the pair of Bulldog sophomores went on to connect for three touchdowns and set three UMD school records in the game. UMD had the added incentive of trying to expand its own surprising 5-0 record, because the 1980 UMD team, including retired coach Jim Malosky, was introduced on the field at halftime, and that 10-0 team was the last Bulldog outfit to put up a perfect record.
Also, in case more incentive was required, Concordia had entered the Northern Sun last season, and the fledgling program had added some insult to UMD's rebuilding-season injury with a 35-27 beating last season in St. Paul -- an eerily similar score in the only previous meeting between the two.
But don't blame the Bulldogs for faltering. Instead, give credit to Concordia for being by far the most impressive opponent UMD has faced this season. Quarterback Mike Allen and running back Chris Washington are always elusive and almost always unstoppable for the Bulldog defense, but the Golden Knight defense completely stymied UMD's running game, that had been impressive enough to add balance to Fritz's passing attack.
Allen, a 6-foot-2, 185-pound senior quarterback from St. Paul Central, and Washington, a 5-foot-9, 198-pound sophomore running back from Minneapolis North, supplied the 1-2 punch that put Concordia in command by 30-14 at halftime, and ultimately left both teams tied at 3-1 in conference play and 5-1 overall. Concordia's only loss came at Northern State, where UMD must go this weekend. Winona State remains unbeaten atop the NSIC.
Allen was 17-for-31 passing for 241 yards and two touchdowns, and he carried the ball 13 times for 114 total yards -- including two more touchdowns, one a 56-yard backbreaker that built the Golden Knights lead to 37-14 to open the third quarter. He also was chased and caught enough times to reduce his net yards gained to 86 for the day, which still was impressive because it was second only to Washington's 125 net yards on 31 rushes, scoring one touchdown and setting the stage for most of the others.
Either one compiled considerably more than UMD's total team net rushing yardage as Concordia outgained UMD 231-13 on the ground. Erik Conner, who had been dominant for UMD in the past few games, and had credited his offensive lines for carving the generous holes through which he could run, carried only six times, with no holes, gaining two total yards and losing three for a net rushing figure of minus-1. "They were good, solid," said Conner, who caught two passes for 14 yards while little-used Jared Murray of Hermantown was UMD's top rusher with 18 net yards on three carries, including the only touchdown Fritz and Steve Battaglia didn't record.
"We got lucky," said Battaglia, from Cloquet, who plays one split end while his freshman brother, Tim Battaglia, plays flanker on the other side. "We hit a few big ones early. I was hoping they'd keep calling my number. I felt I had to take full advantage of any chances, because we had to have a little spark. We had a chance to come back in the fourth quarter."
It appears Concordia, a school known for things other than football right up until last year, may be the large beneficiary of being the only college in the Twin Cities that awards scholarships, other than the University of Minnesota. Many of the best high school football players in the Twin Cities aren't quite big enough or hefty enough to be recruited by the Gophers or other Division I colleges, while many of them have made the trek to Fargo, as the nucleus of North Dakota State's perennial Division II powerhouse.
Apparently, there are a few more around who might prefer to stay closer to home and can't afford the numerous strong but costly Division III college programs from the MIAC, if Allen and Washington are examples.
"They were the toughest two players to contain for us this year, so far," said UMD coach Bob Nielson. "They're a good football team. They outplayed us and outcoached us a little today. They returned everybody from last year's team, and their quarterback both ran and threw the ball well at critical times. We had enough opportunities, but we did a poor job of converting. I take the blame for that."
Almost all of the opportunities were supplied by Fritz, despite being chased and hurried all day by Concordia's defense.
"They were good -- the best team we've played," said Fritz, who could take no satisfaction from his two new scoring records. "We had to pass too much, and they were good both on offense and defense. They had big tackles, and they'd just anchor themselves and hunker down, and we couldn't run against them."
Fritz, from Eden Prairie, set two school records -- for pass attempts and passing yardage -- while going 24-49 for 413 yards. His 49 throws broke Trevor Theelke's record 42 attempts two years ago against Northern Michigan, and the 413 yards wiped out Theelke's mark of 312 from that same game. Seven of his passes went to Steve Battaglia, who went the distance for touchdowns on three of them, and accumulated a school record 246 yards for the day. That obliterated the record set just last year by Jeff Wenngatz, who gained 166 yards against Crookston. Battaglia also scored on a 63-yard pass from Fritz in the third quarter, and caught a 12-yard scoring pass to close the score from 37-14 to the final 37-27.
"In high school, I don't think I ever broke 200," said Battaglia. "But it turned out, we had to pass too much because they were so aggressive defensively. They're underrated. They're really a good team, the best team we've faced."
While the Bulldogs still had a fleeting chance to continue their comeback on their two final drives in the fourth quarter, one ended when a third-down Fritz pass got away from Chris Walker in the end and a Cash Langeness field goal try was blocked, and the Knights defense ran the 'Dogs out of downs on their final chance.
The big crowd expected big things, and got them, right at the start. After the opening kickoff, the Bulldogs stunned Concordia on the first play, when Fritz connected with Battaglia for an 85-yard touchdown strike. Just 26 seconds into the game, UMD led 7-0. If that put things in the proper festive atmosphere, it came while several hundred fans were still outside, trying to enter while ticket officials for some reason had closed off all but the one central gate.
By the time they got in, Concordia had started coming back. The UMD defense stiffened and forced the Golden Knights to settle for David Gottschalk's 29-yard field goal, but the momentum already had switched sides. Concordia next moved in after a punt exchange and scored when Allen looked at a third-and-12 at the 16 and hit Brent Rohne over the middle for a touchdown.
That put Concordia up 10-7, and the Golden Knights were off and running. They stretched the lead to 16-7 on an 80-yard drive in the second quarter, with either Allen or Washington doing the running or passing on all 10 plays, and Washington going the final four yards for the touchdown.
UMD freshman Cash Langeness blasted off for a 62-yard kickoff return, which led to a 6-yard touchdown by Jared Murray, closing the gap to 16-14. But Concordia responded with another quick, 80-yard drive, capped by Allen's 22-yard pass to Nick Johnson. Andrew Wood recovered the fumble when Fritz lost the ball trying to scramble free of the rush, and Concordia went in for Allen's sneak from the one to gain the 30-14 halftime bulge.
"Whenever we scored touchdowns, they responded and scored themselves," said Nielson. "When we get behind early, we are not going to be as effective, because we're not the type of team that can throw every down. We got three scores down, and we never really got the chance to use the running game. We didn't have time to hammer it in."
Instead, they got hammered on.