St. Peter, Minn. – With the score tied 20-20 in the second overtime, kicker Thomas Schleuesener (Jr., Rapid City, S.D.) stepped up and knocked a 37-yard field goal through the uprights to give the Gustavus football team a 23-20 victory over No. 22 Saint John’s Saturday afternoon at Hollingsworth Field. The win was the first for the Gusties over the Johnnies since 1997 and snaps a 15-game losing streak.
“It feels awesome,” Schleusener put simply. “As a kicker you have to have the mentality that you are going to make every field goal. When I stepped up to that last one, I knew I was going to hit it.”
With the win, Gustavus improves to 5-3 overall and 3-3 in the MIAC, while Saint John’s falls to 6-2 overall and 4-2 in conference play following the loss.
After quarterback Mitch Hendricks (So., Laporte, Minn.) threw an interception on Gustavus’s opening drive, Saint John’s marched 45 yards in seven plays to score a touchdown and take an early 7-0 lead. Quarterback Nick Martin powered up the middle with 9:06 left in the opening quarter.
Following the interception, the Gustie offense would continue to struggle for the remainder of the first quarter. Gustavus ran just seven plays in the opening frame for a total of 12 yards.
The same could not be said of the defense, however. Faced with a Saint John’s first-and-goal from the six yard line, the Gusties dug in to stop the Johnnies on three straight plays, but a defensive pass interference penalty on third down moved the ball to the Gustavus two-yard line and gave Saint John’s a fresh set of downs. Gustavus was not phased. The defense held strong for three more attempts to get in the end zone, holding the Johnnies to a field goal to push the score to 10-0.
“Our offense struggled at the beginning of the game, quite frankly,” admitted Head Coach Peter Haugen. “Saint John’s got up early and had a little momentum, but I think that goal line stand where we held them to a field goal really energized our team. I can’t say enough about the defense. They gave us a really good opportunity to hang in the game.
Gustavus finally got something going offensively midway through the second quarter. After the defense stopped the Johnnies on fourth down, the offense took over at its own 37-yard line. The Gusties proceeded to march 63 yards in six plays to score a touchdown and cut the Johnnie lead to 10-6. The drive was highlighted by a 46-yard completion from Hendricks to George Buchner (Fr., Excelsior, Minn.). The long pass set up a Jeffrey Dubose (Sr., St. Paul, Minn.) eight-yard touchdown run on the following play with 2:38 remaining in the first half. On the play, Dubose tied Ron Straka ’81 for the Gustavus career rushing touchdowns record at 33. Schleusener’s extra point was good and the score stood at 10-7
Gustavus began the second half much like it did the first: with an interception. This time, the pick was returned all the way down to the Gustavus 17-yard line. Four plays later the Johnnies were in the end zone thanks to a four-yard run by Jakob Certeza and Saint John’s had it’s 10-point lead back with the score 17-7.
The Gusties answered on the ensuing possession. A 43-yard kickoff return by Matt Boyce (So., Excelsior, Minn.) placed the ball on the Saint John’s 45-yard line. Seven plays later, Jeffrey Dubose crossed the goal line to stand alone as the Gustavus career rushing touchdowns leader and bring the Gusties to within a field goal with the score 17-14.
Gustavus chewed up game clock on its next possession, orchestrating a 14-play, 39-yard drive that led to a Schleusener 39-yard field goal, which tied the game at 17-17.
Saint John’s responded with a monster drive of its own, constructing a drive that went 56 yards in 14 plays and took just over eight and a half minutes off the clock. The drive brought the Johnnies all the way down to the Gustavus seven-yard line, but a false start penalty backed them up to the 12-yard line. On third and goal from the 13-yard line, cornerback Torey Asao (Sr., Chaska, Minn.) brought down an interception in the end zone to snub any scoring opportunity for the Johnnies.
Gustavus had its turn at a scoring chance late in the fourth. The Gusties found themselves in phenomenal field position at the 50-yard line with :56 seconds remaining. After three completions and a Saint John’s offside penalty, the Gusties had the ball at the Johnnie 21-yard line with just :07 ticks left. A series of timeouts was called before Thomas Schleusener finally had an opportunity to seal the win for the Gusties. The 32-yard attempt went up. It was high enough; it was long enough, but it pushed just wide right, keeping the score at 17-17 and sending the game to overtime.
After each team made their respective field goal tries in the first overtime to bring the tally to 20-20, Saint John’s kicker Alexi Johnson missed his attempt from 37-yards out in the second, leaving the door open for the Gusties. Four plays later, Thomas Schleusener, the soccer goalie turned placekicker, split the uprights to give the Gusties the 23-20 victory.
What once was open green turf was quickly filled with black and gold as the entire Gustavus sideline rushed the field in the excitement of the moment.
“It was euphoric,” mentioned Schleusener. “It was complete craziness and chaos. It felt so good. It’s awesome to beat the Johnnies.”
Not only was it the first win over the Johnnies in 15 years, it was also the first win over a top-25 team in the D3football.com poll – Saint John’s was ranked 22nd – in Head Coach Peter Haugen’s four-plus-year tenure.
“This is a special win,” stated Haugen. “It’s a special win for our players; it’s a special win for Gustavus; and it’s a special win for our program.”
Both defenses put forth solid efforts on the afternoon. Saint John’s held the Gustie offense to just 250 yards of total offense (109 rushing, 141 passing), and Gustavus kept the Johnnie offense to 308 total yards (198 rushing, 110 passing) after losing the battle in time of possession by over six and a half minutes.
Running back Jeffrey Dubose led the way for Gustavus, rushing 22 times for 69 yards and two touchdowns. Through the air, quarterback Mitch Hendricks completed 17 of 31 passes for 141 yards and two interceptions. His top target was George Buchner, who hauled in nine catches for 71 yards.
“Offensively, we made some plays when we needed to,” mentioned Haugen. “It obviously wasn’t our best day, but Saint John’s has a lot to do with that. Their defense did a great job of preparing this week and they played well today.”
Defensively, Joe Haas (Sr., Mission, Kan.) and Cameron Cropsey (Jr., Eagan, Minn.) each recorded double-figure tackles on the day. Haas recorded 12 tackles (6 solo), while Cropsey registered 11 (2 solo) and half of a sack. Xavier Fust (Jr., Columbia Heights, Minn.) had a breakout game in the secondary, recording four tackles (4 solo), an interception, and a sack on the afternoon. Torey Asao also pulled down an interception.
Gustavus will aim to keep the momentum going when it hosts Carleton on Saturday, Nov. 9th at Hollingsworth Field. That kick off is set for 1:00 p.m.
“Momentum is very important,” finished Haugen. “With everything that we’ve been talking about and everything that we’ve been practicing, our guys will come back and be ready to work. That’s what we have to do. We pride ourselves on being consistent, so certainly that will be the case Monday morning when we get back to work and get after it.”