The Gustavus Football team wrapped up its 2018 campaign last weekend with a 29-20 win over St. Olaf in Northfield.
The win came on the heels of a 14-13 loss against St. Thomas the previous weekend that was equally devastating and encouraging. Despite a heroic defensive effort, the Tommies were able to stage a late fourth quarter comeback and steal a victory.
“I’m just so proud of our effort. I wanted to win for our seniors more than anything because they’ve given everything to this program. Just sick to our stomach that we weren’t able to finish,” Head Coach Peter Haugen said.
Despite the disappointment, the loss was the closest the Gusties have come to beating St. Thomas since 2007, and is a tangible result of the hard work and improvement the Gusties have shown.
Their characteristically strong senior leadership was on full display as the Gusties regrouped to face St. Olaf in their final game of the 2018 season.
Despite the cold and snowy conditions, both teams were able to get on the board early. St. Olaf started with the ball, and found the endzone on the third play of their opening drive with a 58 yard touchdown pass. After failing the extra point attempt, they led 6-0.
The Gusties were quick to respond, however, and put together a scoring drive of their own on their first offensive possession.
After starting on their own 38-yard line, the Gusties marched 62 yards in just five plays, capped off by a 20-yard touchdown run by Junior Brayton Finch. Fellow Junior Josh Kirk ran the ball in for a two-point conversion and the Gusties led 8-6.
Two more unsuccessful drives for each team brought them to the end of the first quarter, but the Gusties got to work early in the second.
This time, it took the Gusties nine plays to travel 63 yards and find the endzone. On a second-and-ten from the St. Olaf 21-yard line, Senior quarterback Michael Veldman completed a pass to fellow Senior Ellis Herman for six points. This time, their two-point conversion attempt failed, and the Gusties led 14-6.
The Oles then took over and used 14 plays to tie the game on a two-yard touchdown run with three minutes left in the first half.
The second half started slowly offensively for both teams, but on the Gusties third possession, Veldman caught fire and threw three straight passes for more than 16 yards. The third was a 33-yard strike for a touchdown to Junior Brice Panning. This time, the Gusties completed the two-point conversion with a pass to Ellis Hirman.
At the end of three quarters of football, the Gusties led 22-14.
On the first play of the Oles’ second drive of the fourth quarter, they had an opportunity to tie the game after a 71-yard touchdown run. The Gusties stopped their two-point conversion attempt, however, and kept the 22-20 lead.
The Gustie defense stayed strong for the rest of the game, and Veldman found Panning on a 71-yard touchdown pass with just over five minutes to go to extend their lead.
Senior Brady Miller sealed the deal with an interception on the Oles’ next drive and the Gusties ran out the remainder of the clock.
“I think we accomplished most of our goals and proved that this program has come a long way and has the ability to compete with anyone in our conference,” Miller said.
With the win, the Gusties improve to 6-4 overall and 5-3 in the MIAC, finishing fourth in the conference.
“It is tough because we were two or three plays away from going 8-2 rather than 6-4, but overall I think we are happy,” Brady Miller said.
“This team was a lot different four years ago than it is now. We learned how to play together and the thing that made it so special was the trust between us,” fellow Senior Dutch Claybough said.
Both seniors commented on how much Gustavus Football has meant to them, and despite the success and improvement they’ve shown this season, their relationships with teammates and coaches have been even more valuable.
The Gusties will miss the impact of their 14 rostered seniors this year, but will undoubtedly build on their momentum for a successful season in 2019.