MOORHEAD — When Concordia senior wide receiver Matt Bye made a clutch touchdown catch late in the fourth quarter Saturday at Wisconsin-La Crosse, it felt like a flashback to mid-summer for him.
The route was one that Bye and Cobbers quarterback Blake Kragnes worked on multiple times in the offseason at Jake Christiansen Stadium.
"The timing in the game felt really similar, it felt really natural," Bye said. "We were out on that field quite a bit. It's something that we've worked on."
Bye's 12-yard touchdown catch tied the game with less than a minute to play in the fourth quarter. Wisconsin-La Crosse, however, went on to earn a 21-14 overtime victory in the Division III football opener for both teams.
"I think we found out that we are very capable of playing well," said Bye, who is from Moorhead.
Wisconsin-La Crosse is ranked No. 23 in this week's D3football.com top 25 poll. The Cobbers (0-1) have another stern test this weekend in their home opener hosting No. 3-ranked and perennial power Wisconsin-Whitewater at noon Saturday, Sept. 14, at Jake Christiansen Stadium.
"Any game is a big week, especially when Wisconsin-Whitewater is coming to town," said Kragnes, who is from Dilworth, Minn. "Why we play college football is for games like this."
The 6-foot-4, 210-pound Bye had three catches for 69 yards and a touchdown at La Crosse. A two-year starter at quarterback for Moorhead High, Bye is starting his second season as a full-time receiver for the Cobbers. He was listed as a quarterback in his first two seasons in the Concordia program.
Bye, however, started to see playing time as a wide receiver during his sophomore season.
"He's just an incredible athlete," Cobbers head coach Terry Horan said. "He's really gifted. He's really grown into a nice receiver. He's a big, tall, rangy receiver. He's a physical kid and he's got good hands."
Bye played quarterback for most of his playing career going back to his youth football days. Learning how to run routes is one of the areas Horan think Bye has improved on over the past two seasons. Bye credits that development to the work he did over the summer with Kragnes and other Concordia receivers.
Kragnes said Bye and the team's other receivers were at Jake Christiansen Stadium three times a week for most of the summer working on different routes and timing. That offseason work has paid early-season dividends for Bye. Kragnes said Bye already had the knack for reading defensive coverages since Bye is a former quarterback.
Kragnes said he can tell Bye is becoming more comfortable at receiver.
"I think he's gotten a little more aggressive," Kragnes said. "He's a really strong athlete. He can go up and get the ball and he's not afraid to go up and get the ball."
Bye has developed into a multiple-sport standout for the Cobbers. Last spring, he earned Division III All-American honors in the decathlon for the Cobbers men's track and field team. He finished in eighth place in the decathlon last May at the national meet.
While Bye said football and track don't have too much in common, he thinks competing in both have helped him become a better overall athlete.
"They are really different sports," Bye said. "The idea of the pressure situation, that does help a little bit. I've competed in big track meets and big football games."
Bye is a familiar name in the Cobbers football program. Matt's older brothers, John Bye and Erik Bye, both played for Concordia. Their father, Rob Bye, played football for the Cobbers in the 1980s.
"They are maroon and gold through and through, that entire family," Horan said. "Matt is such a good kid, a bright kid and a smart football player. He's a fun kid to have around."