SEWARD, Neb. -- For the fifth straight time, and seventh overall dating back to last season, Dakota Wesleyan University (1-6, 0-5) dropped a Great Plains Athletic Conference game.
It had one of its best chances to snap the streak, being within a touchdown for most of the contest. Penalties, an inability to finish drives and Concordia’s (Neb.) 98-yard touchdown drive all hampered the Tigers in a 24-17 loss on Saturday.
Airing it out
Zachary Lester made his first career, and was given every opportunity to shine. His 50 pass attempts were the most since Shaye Slaughter passed 57 times in last year’s season opener.
While he forced the ball into coverage and held onto the ball too long at times, resulting in six sacks, the sophomore led arguably DWU’s most potent passing attack this year. He completed 28 of 50 passes for 313 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
The Tigers’ 17 points mirror their 12.3 points per game in GPAC play. But without a reliable rushing attack, Lester gave them chances to set a new top scoring mark in GPAC play. DWU failed to capitalize on opportunities, though.
Tate Gale missed a 37-yard field goal after a penalty pushed DWU outside the 10-yard line. DWU was stopped on three straight runs from the 1-yard line to end the half, and Lester’s interception came on fourth down with it in need of a touchdown down 14 at the 6-yard line.
“He threw the ball downfield pretty well and that was a good thing to see,” DWU coach Ross Cimpl said. “He was able to extend plays. I think there was also sometimes we got too greedy. … There were some guys who made some big catches down the field, and obviously he’s getting the ball downfield, especially toward the end.”
Mitchell native Kiel Nelson suited up, but didn’t play due to a shoulder injury. Cimpl said he has another appointment, though it’s too early to tell whether he’ll be able to play against Midland at 1 p.m. Saturday.
Mitchell native Spencer Neugebauer and Daniel Libolt formed one of the better wide receiver duos in the GPAC last season. With Libolt dealing with a hand injury, freshmen Chance Sorensen and Garrett Determan have stepped up.
Despite not being 100 percent, Libolt returned against the Bulldogs with his hand taped. He caught four passes for 37 yards, while Neugebauer provided a security blanket for Lester early.
Meanwhile, Sorensen set career highs in catches (8) and yards (90) in his breakout game, and Determan reeled in his team-high fourth touchdown. Determan has provided the Tigers with a big-play option, catching at least a 30-yard pass in five games.
“Guys get more comfortable and catching the ball,” Cimpl said. “Our offensive line protecting and schematically putting our guys in a position to get open.”
Concordia put together a 10-play, 77-yard touchdown drive to open the game, but the Tigers clamped down. They held the Bulldogs scoreless on four straight drives -- it would’ve been seven if not for a roughing the punter penalty.
DWU was able to get into the backfield to neutralize the Bulldogs’ run game and record its first two sacks of conference play. Ryan Durdon gained 49 yards on 22 carries.
“We still need to create more turnovers and a couple of big conversions on third down, which we obviously don’t want to have,” Cimpl said. “But I think we responded. We held them to pretty low in the rushing yardage. When you take away the run game, you’re going to give up the pass.”
All three of Concordia’s touchdowns came through the air, which saw it have three scoring drives of nine plays or longer to go with a costly 98-yard, fourth-quarter touchdown drive.
It was just the second time DWU held an opponent under 30 points this season, though. To keep it up, DWU will have to contain the No. 3 (Midland) and No. 1 (Morningside) scoring offenses in the conference in back-to-back weeks.