This past weekend, the Gustavus Football team kicked off its 2019 campaign at home against Martin Luther College.
Last season the team showed its competitive edge, finishing the season with an overall record of 6-4 and 5-3 record in MIAC play that prompted a fourth place finish in one of the most competitive football conferences in the nation.
This preseason, the Gusties have been working tirelessly to build on their success from last year. The team is looking promising this season and is returning a large core of players who have racked up a lot of experience at Hollingsworth Field.
Head Coach Peter Haugen is excited with how the team is progressing and the competitive attitude of its players.
“We’ve been focused on growing as a team and we have some key guys coming back to the lineup. There will be a few new faces but I’m excited about our leadership and the direction that we’ve been going,” Haugen said.
One key player that Haugen will rely on this season is Senior quarterback Michael Veldman.
Last year Veldman had a breakout season with the team, earning All-Conference honors after starting all ten games for the Gusties. Veldman completed 195 of his 335 attempted passes last season, good for 2,615 yards and 19 touchdowns.
Other key returners are Sophomore running back David Peal who ran for 436 yards on 113 carries and notched eight touchdowns, as well as Senior wide-receiver duo Brice Panning and Josh Kirk.
These players will likely be the key contributors to the Gustie offense this season.
Sophomore Zachary Jakes will be holding down the defensive line. Last season, he led all defenders with four sacks and was second on the team with 9.5 tackles for a loss.
Joining him in the defensive effort are Seniors Taylor McDonald and Zeke Erickson and Junior Sam Jones.
Other notable returners include the Senior linebacker pair of Jake Boykin and Avery Bachman, who collectively tallied 106 tackles last season.
On Sept. 7, the Gusties faced their first test in the home opening game against Martin Luther.
The team put on a powerful offensive display in front of its home crowd, defeating the Knights by a score of 50-19.
Following a lost punt return, the Knights were first to strike, making the score 6-0 after a missed extra point.
However, the Gusties didn’t let this early setback phase them, and Kirk responded by returning the ensuing kickoff 81 yards.
Veldman then connected with Panning on the first play of the drive for a 15 yard touchdown and after a successful two point conversion by Kirk, the Gusties took a 8-6 lead.
After a turnover on downs, the offense kept rolling. Veldman launched a 64-yard pass to Kirk and then proceeded to run it in for a touchdown the following play.
In the second quarter, Gustavus continued to put pressure on the Knights and finished the half out leading by a score of 36-6.
Before the half, Panning scored his second and third touchdowns for the team while Peal added another for the Gusties.
The third quarter was much slower of a game, with a lot of the time being eaten up by a Martin Luther 17-play drive which eventually resulted in their second touchdown of the game.
The Gusties quickly came thundering back, however, when Peal scored his second touchdown of the game early in the fourth quarter to go up 43-12.
The Gusties quickly added another after a strong defensive effort by Sophomore Lucas Oleson caused a forced fumble which was recovered by Sophomore Nicholas Negron for a touchdown.
Martin Luther would go on to score in their final possession of the game and the game finished with a score of 50-19.
“It was a good offensive effort,” said Haugen. “There were a couple spots where we got discombobulated and didn’t execute the way that we wanted too, but for the most part I loved what we did.
Looking forward, the Gusties have some tough tasks ahead of them.
The team’s next game is against UW-Stout at 1:05 p.m. Sept. 14 in Menomonie, WI.
After that, MIAC play is set to begin and the Gusties have a tough early schedule, taking on No. 3 St. John’s followed by No. 10 Bethel.