The Gustavus football team succumbed to rival, St. Thomas, this past weekend after a valiant effort in what was potentially the last Gustie-Tommie matchup.
With the loss, Gustavus moves to 4-3 in the MIAC, tied for fourth place, and the 19th ranked Tommies move to 6-1, tied for second place.
The first quarter saw both teams trading punches in a back-and-forth battle.
The Tommies struck first with a short run to the endzone, a refrain that would become far too familiar for the Gusties by the end of the game.
Gustavus answered back with a drive ending in a 2-yard pass from Michael Veldman to tight end Brayton Finch to the first quarter ended in a stalemate.
The second quarter began much the same way as the first as the momentum hung tenuously between both teams.
The Tommies struck again, scoring on a 44-yard pass, but Gustavus put together a convincing 12 play, 78-yard drive capped off by a Brice Panning touchdown catch to answer back.
This was Panning’s NCAA-leading 16th receiving touchdown of the season.
Aided by an interception, St. Thomas began flexing their offensive muscle and closed out the first half with two touchdowns to take a 29-14 lead.
After halftime the Tommies continued to build their lead, outscoring the Gusties 14-8 and taking a 43-22 advantage into the fourth quarter.
With their heads on the chopping block in front of a hostile crowd, the Gusties mounted a furious comeback.
Another massive 13 play, 77-yard drive garnered a short touchdown pass for Ethan Sindelir, and a fumble by the Tommies gave Gustavus great field position.
The Gusties capitalized, and Sindelir notched another score on a six-yard strike from Veldman to bring Gustavus within one possession, score 43-36.
With the pressure mounting, St. Thomas remained cool and put together the timely 60-yard drive they desperately needed to stop the bleeding, capped off by a run into the endzone.
On the next Gustavus drive a Veldman pass was picked off, and the Tommies closed out the game with a pair of unanswered touchdowns for a final score of 57-36.
Reflecting on the tough loss, senior stalwart Brayton Finch said he was impressed with his squad’s resiliency and effort.
“We came out ready to play and were very motivated throughout the entire season to face St. Thomas. We thought we had the best game plan possible, but they proved to be the more physical team by the end of the game.
We’re proud of the effort we put forth, and we’re going to carry that throughout the rest of the season,” Finch said.
Panning had a stellar outing for Gustavus with 10 catches for 169 yards and a touchdown.
Veldman completed 29-45 passes for 365 yards and four scores, but also had two interceptions and a fumble. He faced constant pressure throughout the game, which resulted in 8 St. Thomas sacks.
The losses on these plays drove the run game down to a total of -5 yards, as the Gusties were largely one-dimensional throughout the contest.
Running backs David Peal and Dalton Thelen combined had 14 carries for 45 yards.
The Gustie defense was led by Defensive back Kaleb Scott and free safety Austin Fest with eight tackles apiece.
St. Thomas senior running back Josh Sparks had a phenomenal outing, racking up 246 all-purpose yards and scoring five times.
“We have a saying on the team that the season is one big play and I think that it truly sticks with everyone that every play and every game has just as much meaning as the last,” Finch said.
Gustavus wraps up its season next week at 1 p.m. Nov. 16 at home against the Oles of St. Olaf.