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MIAC Football, Week One: A Quartet of Thrillers

By Rich Mies, CSN Mapping the MIAC Columnist.

The Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference kicked off its 87th football season in typical MIAC fashion. The week’s slate consisted of a quartet of nail-biters, highlighted by an NCAA Division III record six overtime battle in which St. Olaf outlasted St. Thomas, 29-23. Defending champ Bethel was upset 17-14 by Carleton, Concordia knocked off traditional league heavyweight Saint John’s 9-6, and Gustavus started Coach Jay Schoenebeck’s final run through the MIAC with a 21-14 decision over Hamline.

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CONCORDIA 9 SAINT JOHN’S 6

Entering Saturday’s battle, there were more than a few questions surrounding the Johnnies and Cobbers, two of the MIAC’s traditional powerhouses. By the time the final gun sounded, Concordia’s defense cleared up any doubts of its strength, and the Cobbers eked out a 9-6 win in Collegeville in front of a sun-drenched crowd of 9,436.

The annual meeting of the league’s two northern-most members has a tendency to go a long way in crowning the league champion. The Cobbers and Johnnies have won 47 MIAC titles between them and they are the only MIAC schools to win a national title. Nearly every recent meeting between the two has been a hard-fought battle, decided in the trenches and there have been more than a few miraculous finishes.

Coming into the game, there were concerns about the Cobber defense and offensive line; at SJU, there was uncertainty at quarterback. The Cobbers O-line, with only two players returning with significant playing time, looked solid against a talented SJU defense and the Concordia defense laid to rest any concerns raised after their 35-18 season-opening loss to Willamette. The Cobbers held SJU to its lowest scoring output since 1980 and notched a key safety in the second quarter.

The performance of his defense put a glowing smile on Coach Terry Horan’s face after the game. “The Johnnie defense was stellar as usual, and we didn’t get much going offensively, but our defense did a super job,” stated Horan. “Any time you can get a win here, it means a lot. We had a warrior spirit today.” (Listen to Coach Horan’s comments here)

After the defense stymied the Johnnies on the game’s opening drive, the Cobbers put together a 13-play drive that culminated in their lone touchdown on the day. The drive, all running plays, was capped by a nifty run by quarterback Jesse Nelson. Facing second-and-six at the Johnnies 26, Nelson cut to his left, but the planned route was broken up by the SJU defense. Nelson adroitly darted to his right, eluded a pair of would-be tacklers and scampered into the end zone. Carl Hauser split the uprights, lifting the Cobbers to a 7-0 lead. (Hear Nelson analyze the game here)

Two possessions later, the Cobbers drove down within inches of the SJU end zone, a drive that carried into the second quarter. They earned a first down at the three, and pushed the ball to the one on the next snap. They ran the ball on the next two snaps, including fourth-and-inches, but SJU’s defense dug in and denied Concordia.

SJU took over inside its own one. After an incomplete pass, the Cobbers, led by Jon Hanson and Grant Aakre, stacked up the Johnnie running back in the end zone for a safety and a 9-0 lead.

On SJU’s next possession, quarterback Joe Boyle took the reins. He crafted an eight-play drive that covered 69 yards and punctuated it with a 20-yard strike to Jakob Reding for the TD, trimming the gap. A bad snap resulted in a failed PAT, keeping the Cobbers lead at 9-6.

From there, the defenses took over. SJU limited Concordia to just 44 yards rushing in the second half, and 183 on the day. Cory Johnson, the Cobbers’ all-time leading rusher, led the way with 79 yards on 15 carries. “It was a hard fought game by both teams,” Johnson stated. “Both defenses played phenomenal.” (Hear all of Johnson’s comments here)

For SJU, Boyle led the running game with 51 yards. He added 119 yards through the air as he completed 10 of 19 passes.

The game was the 589th game coached by Saint John’s legendary coach John Gagliardi, breaking the record for most games coached in college football history.

Concordia improves to 2-1 on the season and 1-0 in MIAC play, The Cobbers host defending league champion Bethel next weekend as part of Family Weekend.

The loss drops SJU to 2-1 overall and 0-1 in league action. The Johnnies look to get back on a winning track next weekend, hosting Gustavus in SJU’s Homecoming Game.

CARLETON 17 BETHEL 14

The Knights put a damper on Homecoming festivities at Bethel, as Jon Lien capped an 84-yard drive with an 18-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter in front of 3,700 fans.

Statistically, the game was a dead heat, with Bethel racking up 325 yards in offense and Carleton compiling 323. Both teams committed three turnovers, all interceptions, and each team punted five times. The Knights held a slim edge in time of possession, 31:56-28:04.

Carleton drew first blood with a field goal late in the first quarter. A six-play drive stalled at the BU 23, and Tim Kane split the uprights from 41-yards out to put the Knights on top, 3-0.

After forcing Bethel to punt, the Knights marched 65-yards in the opening minutes of the second quarter. Shane Henfling connected with Matt Franks from one yard out for the game’s first TD. Kane tacked on the PAT to up the Carleton lead to 10-0. That margin held up into halftime.

The Royals got on the board early in the third quarter. After forcing a Carleton punt, Bethel drove 85 yards on nine plays. A key piece of that drive was a 26-yard pass from Caleb Graff to Aaron Bernstetter. Graff capped the drive with a two-yard scoring run. T.J. Kloetzke drilled the PAT home, cutting the gap to 10-7.

On Carleton’s next possession, a Henfling pass was snagged by Cory Svihla, who returned it 32 yards before being drug down by Henfling at the Carleton 35. Six snaps later, Logan Flannery broke loose from seven yards out and then home bleachers erupted with euphoria. Kloetzke added the PAT and Bethel led 14-10.

Late in the third quarter, the Knights took over at their own 16. Lien got the call on seven of the next nine plays, including the final snap. On that play, he broke loose from 18 yards out and scurried into the pay dirt, securing the 17-14 lead.

The Knight’s defense sealed the win with a fourth down sack, a blocked field goal attempt and an interception on Bethel’s next three possessions.

For Carleton, Lien finished the day with 77 yards rushing. Henfling completed 20-of-38 passes for 252 yards, but was sacked five times. Frank hauled in 10 of those passes for 142 yards, moving into third place in Carleton’s all-time receiving list.

The win raises Carleton’s record to 2-0 and 1-0 in MIAC play. The Knights step out of league play next week and tangle with Macalester in the annual Book of Knowledge Bowl. They return to MIAC play the following weekend at St. Olaf in the Malt-O-Meal Cereal Bowl, symbolic of bragging rights in Northfield.

Flannery’s 121 yards rushing paced the Bethel offense. Graff completed 12-of-18 passes for 124 yards, with Bernstetter on the receiving end of 11 of those for 117 yards.

The Royals fall to 1-2 overall and 0-1 in league play. Next up is a road trip to Concordia on Saturday.

ST. OLAF 29 ST. THOMAS 23 (SIX OVERTIMES)

The Oles and Tommies set an NCAA Division III record by playing six overtimes as they treated 4,400 fans with a thrilling, edge-of-your-seat battle in which the Oles prevailed 29-23. It was the third longest game in NCAA history, trailing only an eight-OT game in Division I FCS and a seven-overtime battle in Division I FBS.

UST jumped to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. On St. Olaf’s first possession, Brady Ervin picked off a Jon Haberman pass at the midfield stripe and sprinted into the end zone for the game’s first touchdown. The defense forced the Oles to punt on their next possession, and it took UST just three plays to reach pay dirt, this time scoring on a 65-yard bomb from David Sauer to Fritz Waldvogel.

That lead held until late in the second quarter. The Oles forced UST to punt, Leon Clark fielded the kick at the Ole 22, and darted downfield, racing 78 yards for a touchdown, pulling the Oles within 14-7.

The defenses slugged it out over the next 22 minutes before Haberman spotted Micah Johnson open from 10 yards out. That TD tied the game with 4:44 to go. Each team had one possession in the final minutes, but neither was able to score, sending the tilt into overtime. Or, rather, into overtimes.

Both teams were scoreless in the first two OTs, trading missed field goal attempts. A Nick Ondler field goal put St. Olaf up 17-14 in the third OT, but UST retaliated with a 27-yarder by Eric Taylor to force a fourth OT.

The Tommies missed a field goal attempt in the fourth OT, but blocked Ondler’s attempt to stay alive for a fifth.

St. Olaf notched a touchdown on a 25-yard Haberman pass to Evan Endsley in the fifth OT. UST matched that a two-yard run by Sauer.

With the crowd on the edge of its seats, Taylor’s 43-yard field goal attempt in the sixth overtime was wide, opening the door for the Oles. On their third play, Coty Watkins broke loose for a 16-yard touchdown, ending the game.

UST is now 1-1 overall and 0-1 in MIAC play. The Toms host Hamline on Saturday.

St. Olaf improves to 3-0 overall and 1-0 in league play. The Oles travel to Augsburg next weekend.

GUSTAVUS 21, HAMLINE 14

The Gusties notched the 450th win in program history, holding off the Pipers for a 21-14 win in front of a crowd of 2,374 at Gustavus.

After a Gusties scoring threat was thwarted by an interception in the end zone late in the first quarter, it took the defense two plays to score. Ethan Armstrong recovered a fumble at the Hamline 21. He scooped up the ball and charged the distance for a touchdown, putting GAC on top, 7-0.

After a scoreless second quarter, the Gusties took the opening kick and marched 58 yards on 10 plays. Jordan Becker capped the drive with a 21-yard scoring pass to Cameron Maurer, padding the Gustavus lead to 14-0.

James Leary countered with a pair of third quarter touchdown runs, each from one yard out, enabling Hamline to knot the score at 14-14.

From there, the defenses dominated until the final minute of play. With 1:02 left on the clock, Adam Lukes sprinted in untouched from three yards out, lifting Gustavus to the final margin.

The Gusties held Hamline to just 92 yards rushing and allowed only 126 yards in the air. Leary completed 13-of-26 passes, with Sean Lewis on the receiving end of five of them, good for 59 yards.

Gustavus mustered just 111 yards on the ground, but Becker connected on 21-of-35 passes for 228 yards. Chad Arlt, GAC’s all-time receiving yardage leader, caught eight passes for 99 yards.

The loss drops Hamline to 1-1 overall and 0-1 in MIAC play. The Pipers travel to St. Thomas on Saturday.

With the win, Gustavus improves to 2-0 overall and 1-0 on league action. The Gusties travel to Saint John’s next weekend.

* * *

2008 Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Standings
Through games of September 20, 2008

                        Conference   Overall   
  Team                    W  L     W   L    
  ----                    -  -     -   -   
  St. Olaf College        1  0     3   0    
  Carleton College        1  0     2   0
  Gustavus Adolphus       1  0     2   0    
  Concordia College       1  0     2   1
  Augsburg College        0  0     2   0  
  Saint John's University 0  1     2   1    
  Univ. of St. Thomas     0  1     1   1   
  Hamline University      0  1     1   1         
  Bethel University       0  1     1   2  

Saturday, September 27, 2008
Hamline @ St. Thomas- 1 PM
Bethel @ Concordia- 1 PM
Gustavus @ Saint John’s - 1 PM
St. Olaf @ Augsburg - 1 PM
Macalester @ Carleton – 1 PM (non-conference)