Concordia destined for second again

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Andrew Maddox surpassed quarterback Jake Koehler as Concordia (Ill.)'s leading rusher this past week.
Concordia (Ill.) athletics photo

It almost doesn’t seem fair for Concordia (Ill.) and coach Lonnie Pries.

In six years he has turned a team that hadn’t had a winning season in more than a decade into a regular contender for the Northern Athletics Conference title. The operative word here is contender.

The nice ending to this fairy tale football story should end with the Cougars winning the NATHC title. Concordia, though, has finished second the past two seasons. While the Concordia turnaround has been impressive, Pries and his team want a conference title. Now, the Cougars can still get a share of the NATHC crown with a victory at Aurora on Saturday then hope defending conference champs Benedictine loses at home to Wisconsin Lutheran, but the Eagles have already clinched the playoff spot.

"We have mixed emotions about the chance to finish second again in the conference standings,” Pries said. “We do have the goal each year to win a conference championship and represent the NAC in the playoffs so we would be disappointed about not being able to play in the postseason.”

Like all good stories, there is a bad guy. In this story it’s Benedictine.

In 2009, Concordia was on its way to its first winning season this decade when the Cougars lost to Benedictine 15-14 in the final game of the season, leaving the 8-2 Cougars in a three-way tie for second play, while the team it beat in conference play, Lakeland, went on to take the title and a trip to the playoffs.

Last year, the Cougars took it on the chin against Benedictine in a 47-41 shootout and finished 6-1 in conference play and 8-2 overall. With one game left in play in the regular season, Concordia finds itself in the same predicament.

After losing to Benedictine 43-21 back on Oct. 1, the Cougars are chasing the Eagles again with a 5-1 record and 6-2 overall. But that doesn’t mean Pries feels badly about the Cougars effort this year. Anything but.

“With the number of starters we replaced on the offensive side of the ball as well as the injuries we needed to overcome, we are very proud of our team and our leaders for how they have battled and stuck together this season,” Pries said. 

This shouldn’t take away from the fact that Priess has proven that his 2009 season was not a flash in the pan or a season where Concordia simply caught everyone by surprise.  To fully appreciate where the Cougars are now, you have to understand where this team has been.

Sports information director Jim Egan had to go back to the 1968-70 seasons to find the last time Concordia had three consecutive winning seasons. In 1968, the Cougars went 7-2, which tied the 1987 team for the school’s best single-season record until the 8-2 season two years ago. In 1969, Concordia went 6-2 and in 1970 went 4-3-1 for a combined three-year run of 17-7-1.

All three seasons were under coach Conrad Aumann, who is the school’s all-time winningest coach with 70 wins from 1964 to 1982.

“It is exciting for all of us who are connected to Concordia to see the success in the football program and to see our players grow as men and as athletes from their experience here at Concordia," Pries said.

It seems that Pries has transformed the Cougars. The only thing that’s missing is its happy ending.

Pins and needles

No. 6 North Central’s 33-7 victory over No. 19 Wheaton in the Little Brass Bell game clinched the Cardinals playoff spot in the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin. For Wheaton and No. 17 Illinois Wesleyan, though, it will be a waiting game after the final whistle on Saturday.

Illinois Wesleyan (8-1 and 5-1 in CCIW) seems to be in the best spot to grab a second playoff spot with its only loss to North Central. Wheaton (7-2, 4-2) will have a tougher argument to make. While the Thunder have been ranked in the Top 25 all season and has an impressive history in the playoffs, the third place finish in the CCIW will be hard to overlook.

Franklin’s one last task

The Franklin Grizzlies bounced back nicely after an earlier thumping by No. 1-ranked UW-Whitewater to run the table (7-0, 8-1 overall) in the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference.

Many were anticipating a virtual HCAC title game this Saturday when the Grizzlies met its archrival Hanover in the annual Victory Bell game. But Mount St. Joseph ruined those plays with a 41-23 victory over the Panthers (5-2, 5-4 overall). That allowed Franklin to clinch the conference title.

But there’s a lot of bragging rights that goes with the Victory Bell game and if Franklin has any hope at all for a home playoff game, they certain will need to beat Hanover. For the Panthers, it would be a good way to springboard into next year, so don’t think any emotion will be lost in this contest.

In the 11th week, Monmouth rested

Alex Tanney’s arm will get a much deserved rest this Saturday after the Monmouth Fighting Scots grabbed up the Midwest Conference title with a perfect 9-0 record (9-1 overall). Tanney ended the regular season as the NCAA all-divisions career touchdown passes leader. He threw for 3,304 yards and 35 touchdowns this season against seven interceptions, while completing 73 percent of his passes (230-315). There has been times this season when the Fighting Scots have needed every single one of his touchdown throws to keep them unblemished in MWC play. Running back Trey Yocum, who is rushing for 132 yards a game, has been the perfect balancing act for Tanney as the Scots to sit back and wait to see who will they play in the first round.

Clyde Hughes

Clyde Hughes has been writing sports at various times over the past 24 years, covering everything from high school, college and sporting events. A native of football-crazed Texas, Hughes works in Indiana and has written for numerous newspapers and magazines.
2003-04 columnist: John Regenfuss
1999-2000 columnist: Don Stoner

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