Collegeville, Minn. – The Gustavus football team suffered a 31-17 loss at the hands of Saint John’s on Saturday afternoon at Clemens Stadium. Despite a 14-10 lead at halftime, Gustavus was outscored 21-to-3 in the second half on the way to its fourth straight loss. The Gusties drop to 2-6 overall and 1-5 in the MIAC, while Saint John’s improves to 4-4 overall and 2-4 in the MIAC.
“Its a tough loss for this team in a game that we showed a lot of improvement in a lot of areas,” said Head Coach Peter Haugen.
After winning the coin toss, Gustavus elected to receive for the first time this season. The Saint John’s defense came up with a big turnover to start by picking off a Muresuk Mena pass on the third play of the game to take over possession at the Gustavus 23-yard line.
The Gustie defense responded to the short field by holding the Johnnies to a 32-yard field goal by Jimmie Mattson. The kick gave Saint John’s a 3-0 lead with 10:44 on the clock.
Gustavus had trouble finding success on offense through its first three drives of the game, punting on three straight possessions after Mena’s opening drive interception.
Saint John’s capitalized on its early defensive effort at the start of the second quarter when quarterback Nick Martin connected with receiver Tyson Euerle on a fade in the corner of the end zone. Following the Mattson extra point, Saint John’s was on top with 13:44 left in the second half.
“I’m really proud of the guys, especially the defense, for the way they responded to having their backs against the wall early in the game,” said Haugen. “After only giving up 10 points, the offense got going and that really gave us a spark.”
Facing a 10-0 deficit, Gustavus turned the momentum to its sideline halfway through the second quarter. A 25-yard reverse by slot receiver Eddie Ramos (Jr., Lakeland, Fla.) provided the spark Gustavus needed. After picking up a first down on fourth-and-four on a Saint John’s offside penalty later in the drive, Mena hooked up with Michael Hintze (So., Brooklyn Park, Minn.) two plays later for a 25-yard catch and run touchdown. Hintze took a swing pass and picked up a key downfield block to scamper into the end zone for his first touchdown of the day. Tom Huepenbecker (Sr., Middleton, Wis.) hit the extra point to cut the Johnnie lead to 10-7 with 7:45 on the clock in the second quarter.
After a sloppy stretch of possessions that saw both teams turn the ball over twice, the Black and Gold used one of its best drives of the season to take its first lead in three games.
Following a 20-yard run by Hintze and a 34-yard run by Eddie Ramos, Gustavus had first-and-ten at the Saint John’s 31-yard-line with less than two minutes remaining in the half. The Gusties pounded the ball to the five-yard-line where Mena capped the drive with his second touchdown pass to Hintze with :23 seconds on the clock. Huepenbecker’s extra point gave Gustavus a 14-10 lead heading in the locker rooms for halftime.
“It was great to see our offense begin to click like it did at the end of the first half – we needed that,” stated Haugen.
Mena was 9-for-13 for 72 yards passing in the first half. He connected with five different receivers. Michael Hintze was his top target with three grabs for 30 yards, while Ramos had two catches for 25 yards. Ramos would go on to lead the Gusties on the ground with two carries for 59 yards.
Gustavus totaled 180 yards of total offense compared to Saint John’s 108 yards in the opening half.
Saint John’s re-established itself offensively on the first drive of the third quarter, going 86 yards on six plays to re-take the lead 17-14. Nick Martin broke a 38-yard run for a touchdown with 12:17 on the clock.
The Gusties would not go away quietly, answering with a field goal on their next drive to knot the score at 17-17 with 8:36 left in the third. Huepenbacker capped off the 50-yard drive with his longest field goal of the season from 32 yards out.
From that point on it was all Saint John’s. After forcing Gustavus to a three-and-out, the Johnnies re-gained the lead after Colin Moynihan plunged across the goal line from three yards, giving the Johnnies a 24-17 advantage with less than a minute remaining in the third quarter.
“In the second half, Saint John’s made some good adjustments offensively, particularly running the ball,” commented Haugen. “ We just had too many negative plays offensively and put ourselves in some tough down and distances.”
The Johnnies brought the afternoon’s scoring to a close at the 6:36 mark of the fourth quarter when Jake Essler scored on a six-yard run, extending the lead to 31-17 after the extra point.
Saint John’s saw its ground game hit it’s stride today, racking up 213 rushing yards with Martin and Stephen Johnson leading the way with 83 and 75 yards, respectively.
The Gusties couldn’t find their first half rhythm following the Huepenbecker field goal in the third quarter and were shut out for the remaining minutes of the game. In what was a much-improved offensive performance than recent weeks, Gustavus totaled 296 yards (106 rush, 190 pass) on the day.
Breaking out with his finest performance of the season was Michael Hintze who caught two touchdown passes and totaled a season/team-best 91 yards receiving on six catches. Hintze was also the team’s second-leading rusher with 47 yards on six carries.
“Over the past three weeks we’ve seen Michael’s consistency really improve in practice, so its no surprise to us that he had a breakout game today. He’s a player capable of these types of games so its good to see his consistency pay off,” said Haugen about his sophomore receiver.
Muresuk Mena finished the game 16-for-26 for 190 yards passing. He threw two touchdowns and one interception and was sacked seven times.
The Gusties were on the wrong end of the turnover battle this afternoon, losing three fumbles and throwing one pick. Gustavus’ defense continued to force turnovers however, recovering a fumble and intercepting two passes. Leading the defense for the third straight week was linebacker Joe Haas (Mission, Kan.) who finished with a season/team-best 17 tackles (7 solo) and a fumble recovery. Safeties Beau Bachman (Jr., St. Peter, Minn.) and Kellan Euerle (Jr., St. Cloud, Minn.) came up with the interceptions, while Gustavus registered three sacks.
The Gustavus football team will look to get back on track next Saturday when it travels to Northfield, Minn. to take on Carleton at 1:00 p.m.
“We just have to continue to strive for rhythm on offense and keep forcing turnovers on defense,” said Haugen on next week’s matchup with Carleton. “If we can do that, good things are bound to happen.”