Brady Boie – Staff Writer
The Gustavus football program welcomed fans back to Lloyd Hollingsworth Field with a bang on Saturday. Fueled by explosive plays on offense and key defensive stops, the Gusties upset nationally-ranked Wartburg. Despite coming into the game as heavy underdogs, the Gusties were not afraid of the challenge.
“We approached the game like any other. We practiced hard all week and were prepared for a hard-fought game. We know that every game is tough and that we have to show up and play our best football in order to be victorious,” Senior Michael Veldman said.
This preparation paid off. The Gusties started the game off on the right foot. After the defense forced an early punt, Veldman led the offense right down the field for a touchdown. Their 16 play drive ate up over half of the first quarter and was capped off by a 13-yard touchdown reception by Sophomore Jake Breitbach. Wartburg then mounted a long sustained drive at the end of the quarter, but the Gusties held strong when it mattered most. They forced a 17-yard field goal, and the score read 7-3 after the first quarter.
Unfortunately the Gusties were unable to build off of this strong start. Wartburg dominated the second quarter. They held the ball for over 11 minutes and did not allow the Gusties to move a single yard on offense (-3). The Knights concluded this dominant quarter by scoring a 9-yard touchdown with only seven seconds remaining on the game clock. With the extra point tacked on, the Knights held a 10-7 lead at the half.
In response to a sluggish second quarter, the Gustie offense came alive in third. Veldman connected with Sophomore Matthew Kipper for a 77-yard touchdown strike in the opening minutes of the third quarter. This long touchdown gave the Gusties a four-point lead and solidified Veldman’s place in Gustie Football history. Veldman surpassed Jordan Stolp and became the all-time passing leader in program history with 8,713 yards.
“It was great to set the record. A lot of my old teammates and my family were especially excited for me. I credit all the amazing coaches and teammates I have had since I got here for helping me reach this milestone. I share the record with all of those who helped,” Veldman said.
Veldman didn’t stop there. Later in the third quarter, he threw a 59-yard touchdown to Junior Dalton Thelen. This explosive play put the Gusties up 21-10 with a minute to go in the third quarter. Meanwhile the Gustie defense pitched a shutout. The Gusties outgained Wartburg 217-84 in the third quarter and regained momentum as they headed into the fourth.
As expected Wartburg did not go down without a fight. After surrendering big plays in the third the Knights came up with a few big plays of their own. Wartburg scored a touchdown on a 4th and 13 and then converted the 2 point attempt. These consecutive plays cut the Gustie lead to 3 as the scoreboard read 21-18.
And they didn’t stop there. Wartburg’s defense forced three straight punts from the Gustie offense and left the door open for a Knight’s comeback. However, the Gustie defense was able to stand tall and came up with huge defensive stops of their own. After allowing the touchdown the defense forced a punt and two turnovers on downs over the next three possessions.
“The entire defense stood out (to me). Being able to get key stops throughout the whole game is really what helped us be victorious,” Sophomore Andrey Denson said.
When faced with a 4th and 8 on the Knight’s 27-yard line, the Gusties decided to take a gamble and went for it. And it paid off. Veldman hit Breitbach for his second touchdown of the day and put the Gusties up 27-18.
“Jake scoring that last touchdown was really what sealed the deal. I think it was the biggest play of the game,” Kipper said.
Nelson put the finishing touches on a great defensive game for the Gusties; he intercepted Knight’s quarterback Jace Moore at the five-yard line on the ensuing possession. This interception allowed the Gusties to kneel out the game and secure the 27-18 victory.
“Our key to victory was how we handled adversity. When something bad happened in the game, we picked each other up and moved onto the next play,” Thelen said.
This impressive victory moved the Gusties to 2-0 on the season and showed that the Gusties are capable of doing big things this season. The sky’s the limit for a team who plays for each other the way that the Gusties do.