Northfield, Minn. – Despite a gritty fourth quarter comeback, the Gustavus football team fell by the score of 17-14 to St. Olaf on Saturday afternoon at Manitou Field. After Gustavus cut lead to three points late in the fourth quarter, St. Olaf was able to hold on maintain possession of the football until the final gun. Gustavus drops to 1-2 overall and 0-2 in the MIAC with the loss, while St. Olaf improves to 3-1 overall and 1-1 in the MIAC with the win.
“It’s a tough day for our guys. We played really hard and moved the ball like crazy all day. The difference was that we just didn’t get the ball in the end zone when we needed to,” said Head Coach Peter Haugen.
“We are really close and these are certainly a couple of heartbreaking losses. At this point we have to rally around each other and continue to fight. If we can do that, we’ll be fine.
After forcing a turnover and a punt on St. Olaf’s first two possessions of the game, Gustavus failed to capitalize with the ball deep in St. Olaf territory. An interception by St. Olaf’s Jimmy Gildea at the 19-yard line shut down one drive, and three straight sacks by the Oles led to a turnover on downs on the next drive.
St. Olaf capitalized on the ensuing possession when Dan Dobson went deep down the middle of the field to Stephen Asp for a 51-yard completion. Dobson took to the air on third-and-goal later in the drive, finding Jake Schmiesing on an out route from five yards out for the go-ahead touchdown (7-0).
The Gustavus offense began to click at the start of the second quarter. Quarterback Muresuk Mena (Inver Grove Heights, Minn.) broke free for a 21 and 27-yard run within the same drive to put Gustavus in the red-zone on the eight-yard-line. After running back Jeffrey Dubose (St. Paul, Minn.) took the ball down to the one-yard-line on a seven-yard carry, St. Olaf’s defense responded with a goal-line-stand that proved to be a major momentum shift in the game. The Oles stopped Gustavus on three-straight dives, preserving their 7-0 lead halfway through the second quarter.
With a 7-0 edge following halftime, St. Olaf took advantage of another Gustavus miscue. After recovering a Mena fumble to Gustavus’ 26-yard-line, Dobson found Schmiesing once again – this time on a five-yard slant – for a touchdown to extend the lead to 14-0 with 11:08 left in the third quarter.
Dobson finished the game 19-for-27 for 183 yards and two touchdowns passing. He found seven different receivers over the course of the day and rushed eight times for 50 yards. Stephen Asp was Dobson’s top target, bringing down three catches for a game-high 75 yards.
After the Gustavus offense fumbled for the second-straight possession, the defense came up with big defensive stop on St. Olaf’s next drive when safety Jake Forcier (Watkins, Minn.) picked off Dobson at the Gustavus 27-yard-line.
The Gusties used the momentum to cut the lead to 14-7 following an 11-play, 61-yard scoring drive. On third-and-goal from the four-yard-line, Mena was flushed out of the pocket after seeing that his key target was covered in the end zone. The senior eluded one tackle before scrambling free to the far sideline where he flanked the defense with speed and ran untouched across the goal line for the touchdown. Gustavus gashed the Oles with its running game on the drive, throwing only one incomplete pass and picking up all 71 yards on the ground.
Just when it looked as if Gustavus had turned a corner in the game, St. Olaf responded with its most important drive of the afternoon. Although the Oles settled for a 24-yard Lucas Walnman field goal (17-7), the 14-play drive lasted 8:32.
With 4:58 left to play in the game, Gustavus brought the score to a final at 17-14 after scoring a touchdown with less than three minutes on the clock. Once again, it was Muresuk Mena making a play with his feet. After seeing his hole collapse on a draw play on fourth-and-one, Mena decided to reverse his field and look for a opening on the far side the field. With eight St. Olaf players in the box selling out on the inside run, Mena found daylight on the outside, hitting a lane with speed and galloping 58 yards for touchdown.
“We kept fighting in every way. The guys believe in what we are doing and that is why you see them not quitting or giving up at the end of games,” said Haugen on his team’s perseverance at the end of today’s game.
The drive would be Gustavus’ last of the game, as the Oles picked up a pair of first downs on the final possession of the game.
Although his squad threw for just 77 yards, Coach Haugen has confidence in his team’s running ability early in the season. “We have committed ourselves to keeping it simple and doing a few things exceptional in our rushing game. The guys who have the ball in their hands are dynamic; there is no question about that. With Muresuk near 200 yards and Jeffrey over 100, our ground game is right where it needs to be right now.”
The senior quarterback turned in what was a historic day running the football. With 193 yards on 24 carries (8.0 ypc), Mena ranks 15th all-time on Gustavus’ single-game rushing list. He now holds the school record for most single-game rushing yards by a quarterback. With Dubose’ 114 yards on 18 carries (6.3 ypc), Gustavus ran for a total of 350 yards.
Gustavus went 1-for-3 inside the red-zone, while St. Olaf capitalized on all three of its opportunities. The Black and Gold finished with 392 total yards compared to St. Olaf’ 323 yards.
“We have to continue to rush the ball well and continue to strive for balance in our offense,” said Haugen on his team’s goals heading into next week. “Most importantly, we need to continue to build on what’s working and keep our heads up through the process. We need to have a great week of practice as we gear up for Hamline back at home next weekend.”
Gustavus will look to get back on track Saturday, Sept. 29 at home against the Pipers at 1:00 p.m.