Connor Van Hulzen – Staff Writer
On a frigid Saturday, the Dordt Defenders (7-3) traveled across the Missouri River and took down the Midland Warriors (7-4) to finish third overall in the GPAC standings and earn their first-ever Top 25 ranking in the NAIA.
The temperature at kickoff hovered around a balmy 32 degrees, with wind gusts making it seem even colder. Twenty mile per hour winds blew across the field almost the entire game, making the passing game a struggle for both teams.
A first-drive touchdown, courtesy of a 3-yard run by senior Keithen Drury followed by a missed extra point, put Dordt ahead 6-0 in the first quarter. That touchdown would be the only points scored by either team in a first quarter where each offense struggled to find ways to gain any kind of significant yardage.
The second quarter got off to a fast start, with sophomore linebacker Jordan Weiland intercepting a tipped pass and returning it 30 yards for a touchdown, giving the Defenders a 13-0 lead. This was the first of three interceptions for Dordt’s defense, with two clutch interceptions coming later in the game.
The Warriors came back immediately following the interception and had an efficient drive that ended in a touchdown and extra point, cutting the Defenders’ lead to only six. Shortly before halftime, the Warriors got the ball back and, after a personal foul penalty against Dordt, Midland was in a great position to go into halftime with a smaller deficit or even a lead. Sophomore cornerback Nathan Kabongo had other plans. On a deep pass, an inaccurate throw by Midland’s quarterback gave Kabongo and opportunity to jump, catch and toe tap along the sideline before going out of bounds.
“I was just making sure to catch the ball and stay inbounds,” Kabongo said. “I was hoping to try and get a return, but he threw it right on the sideline which made it difficult.”
Though Dordt didn’t manage to grab any points off the turnover, the interception helped give the Defenders momentum, heading into halftime with a lead of 13-7. During the break, players and coaches made sure to enjoy the heated locker room for as long as they could before heading back out into the cold, wintry weather.
The second half saw scoring early and often, with Midland scoring a touchdown on their first drive, giving the game its first lead change, with the Warriors now leading 14-13.
Dordt made sure to answer back quickly with an efficient drive of their own, which included a connection between junior wide receiver Jake Dodge and senior quarterback Brock Lamle that gained 32 yards. The drive finished with a 1-yard rushing touchdown on behalf of junior Levi Schoonhoven. A failed two-point conversion meant the Defenders now led 20-13 in the third quarter.
The Defenders scored once again after a stalled Midland drive, this time on a 23-yard pass from Lamle to sophomore receiver Levi Jungling. Lamle ran into the end zone to complete the two-point conversion, and suddenly Dordt was ahead by two scores, 27-14.
Midland would score once more before the fourth quarter, closing the deficit to 27-21 in favor of Dordt.
The fourth quarter of the game turned out to be some of the most intense and stressful football of the entire season. The crowd, who had been quiet for most of the game, started to forget about the cold and began to watch with bated breath as Dordt competed to finish with their best-ever result in the GPAC.
Both teams traded ineffective drives until, with nearly a minute left in the game, Dordt struck. Nathan Kabongo once again came up clutch. Delivering an interception with the season on the line, Kabongo guaranteed a win—and Dordt’s best-ever finish. The Dordt sideline and fan section went crazy, jumping up and down and screaming as the coaches tried to get the offense on the field to run out the rest of the clock.
“I was just so taken aback, it was just crazy,” Kabongo said. “When I grabbed it, the crowd just went nuts, the sideline did too. I was just so happy for the seniors – I really wanted to get the win for them and I was so happy we were able to.”
In the postgame huddle, members of the team and coaching staff recognized all the seniors who had just played in their final games, noting things they had done over their years in the program to better everyone around them. Head Coach Joel Penner also gave a speech, saying, “I guarantee that you will forget that last score. I guarantee it. What you won’t forget is this team, and the fun and the moments you guys had together.”
The victory gave Dordt their seventh win on the season for a final record of 7-3. This is the best finish ever for a Dordt football team. The win also pushed the Defenders into the Top 25 of the NAIA Coaches Poll, another first for Dordt. The Defenders, ranked at #23, may have missed the NAIA playoffs, but they achieved much in this season to be proud of.
This year included a lot of history for the football team. This season was the team’s first season finishing above .500, the first season in which they made the NAIA Top 25, and resulted in the highest finish (3rd) ever in the GPAC.
Though the season is over, there is much to be excited about in the program’s future as the team looks forward to accomplishing many more firsts next year.