The Gustavus football team has won three straight and holds its season’s destiny in the palm of its hand
As the current standings read, Gustavus sits in a five-way tie for second place with a record of 5-2 (3-2 in MIAC), with their first legitimate chance at a conference title in quite some time. Gustavus’ football team has not won a MIAC Championship since 1987, before roughly half of the student body was born. Coach Denny Raarup’s team went a faultless 10-0 that year en route to the 22nd such title in school history. The Gusties finished second only once in the time between, in 1998, coach Schoenebeck’s fifth season at the helm.
These current Gusties have won their past three games, and with only three games left to be played, there is an understandable air of excitement in the locker room.
“There is lots of excitement in the air, because we as a team know that it is possible,” said Junior tailback Ray Wilson. “We just have to stay focused, not get satisfied, and take it one game at a time.”
Two Saturdays ago, the Gusties completed the most thrilling victory in the program’s recent history, a 30 to 29 overtime win over the 22nd ranked Carleton Knights on their home field. For Gustavus, the win came down to extraordinary special teams play, highlighted by Senior nose guard Brian Berglund. Responsible for the blocking of two consecutive extra points (one with four seconds remaining in regulation, the other in overtime), Berglund was named as the MIAC Special Teams Player of the Week.
“Our special teams came up big and they are owed a lot of credit,” said Sophomore linebacker Zach Lundquist. “It was a fitting end to a well-played game. We’re just fortunate to be on the w
Junior quarterback Jordan Becker also came to play that afternoon, completing 17 of his 31 pass attempts, including four third down passes longer than 8 yards, for 203 yards and a touchdown without throwing an interception. Becker also ran for 41 yards and a touchdown on his way to being named the MIAC Offensive Player of the Week.
Senior wide receiver Chad Arlt added to his illustrious list of accomplishments with eight catches for 109 yards. That puts his career total at 204, making him one of only six MIAC players in conference history to reach that total. No other Gustie is on that list.
Arlt also caught a 24-yard pass from Becker in overtime to set up a one-yard fumble recovery by Sophomore offensive lineman Chris “Dirty” Martinez, out of the hands of Senior running back Adam Lukes. Senior kicker Jake Holsten tacked on the third extra point of his career, giving the Gusties their second consecutive victory.
Led by Junior rover Joe Welch, who had six tackles to go along with a pick and a pair of pass deflections, Gustavus’ defense held the Knights 80 yards below their nearly 400-yard season average. Sophomore linebackers Paul Stommes and Dustin Kammerer led the team in tackles with nine and eight, respectively.
This past weekend, Gustavus hosted then first-place Augsburg, and the Gustie faithful saw another white-knuckle affair. Gustavus opened the contest with an eleven-play drive in which they kept the ball on the ground for ten of the plays, capped off by a one-yard run for Ray Wilson, who was far from finished. In 28 carries, the Totino-Grace product rushed for a school record 258 yards, including a crucial 81-yard touchdown scamper in the third quarter that proved to be the decisive score as the Gusties upset the Auggies 34-31.
“In terms of my success on Saturday, I have to take my hat off to my o-line and the wide receivers,” said Wilson. “The o-line has been getting better every week, but last week we were all clicking very well when it came to running the ball.”
Becker continued his stellar play, going 9 for 23 for 113 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He also picked up 25 yards with his feet, as well as a two-yard barrel into the end zone after a botched field goal. His choice target, Arlt, had three catches for 67 yards. In his least productive outing of the season, Arlt made a spectacular 46-yard touchdown grab, in which he ripped the ball away from one defender while stiff arming another, at a pivotal moment in the third quarter to put the Gusties ahead 27-21.
Welch led the Gustie defensive unit once again with a team-leading 12 stops and was followed by Stommes’ contribution of 8. For the contest, the Gusties held their opposition to a meager 58 yards and only one first down on the ground.
“We need to keep doing what we’ve been doing in focusing on one game at a time, one practice at a time. The last three weeks have been a good example of what we need to do against good opponents and that’s what its going to take the rest of the way,” said Defensive Coordinator Brian Bergstrom. “Everyone is aware of what’s going on. Our challenge is not to worry because its really out of our control.”
This Saturday, the Gusties travel to Arden Hills to challenge Bethel, one of the five other teams tied for second place.
“We’re going to treat this just like any other week. We’re not going to let that distract us from doing our job,” said Schoenebeck. “Bethel is a good football team we’d be preparing to win this game no matter our position in the conference. We’re trying to play our best football.”
The week following, they play rival St. Olaf in Northfield before culminating the season at home against current MIAC leader Concordia. The Cobbers host the teams of the Cereal Bowl (St. Olaf and Carleton) before heading to St. Peter, effectively creating the possibility of a regular season finale in which the Gusties are playing at home for the MIAC Championship.