October 8, 2008

For Carleton, Walk is a step forward

More news about: Carleton | St. Olaf
Carleton senior Nick Brom walks with the Goat Trophy down St. Olaf Ave. in Northfield, flanked by senior Chris Gardner, left, and junior Phil Blue.
Photo by Pat Coleman, D3sports.com
By Pat Coleman
D3sports.com

NORTHFIELD, Minn. — It's a walk of just a mile and a quarter, yet it took Carleton 12 years to make.

The map would suggest it's fairly simple. Leave the stadium, take a left on St. Olaf Ave., right on Linden, down the hill, across Rte. 19, take Water St. across the Cannon River to Bridge Square.

It's what must be done to earn that walk that has eluded the Knights since 1996. The Walk is taken by the team that wins the Goat Trophy, which goes to the winner of the annual game between Northfield's two Division III schools: Carleton and St. Olaf.

The Eagle, which sits atop the war memorial in the town square, took a decided turn to the northeast on Saturday afternoon, and it was clear the Carleton football program had taken a turn for the better. It had been turned to face St. Olaf's campus after the Oles' 1997 win.

Even to this year's senior class, The Walk was barely more than a legend, a rumor passed down from generations before. In fact, there was discussion as to which way to turn when leaving the stadium. None had ever taken this journey, certainly not 70 strong, chanting, singing the Carleton alma mater and holding the trophy high over their heads, to show everyone in Northfield who rules college football in this town of 17,000.

Carleton fans lined the street along St. Olaf Ave., as the Knights players marched en masse from Manitou Field to the heart of town, taking photos, video, waving from their cars, cheering and honking. Seventy pairs of cleats clicked on the sidewalks. Families in the neighborhood stepped outside onto their front porches and watched the Maize and Blue, instead of the Black and Gold, walking down the street with the Goat Trophy. The team streamed across busy roads because, frankly, who was going to stop them?

For senior captain Mac McDonald the feeling was, "really, truly, unexplainable." McDonald and fellow senior defender John Hanks climbed the civil war memorial in front of a cheering throng of players, parents, students and fans to give the Eagle its requisite clockwise quarter-turn.

"Honestly, as a freshman, I didn't think it would happen," McDonald said, "and now look at it — look where it's pointing."

"I know if we were to pick one game to win it would be this one. Our players love it, this is what they wanted, they played their hearts out. We're very proud of them."

-- Carleton coach Kurt Ramler
The way in which Carleton won was somewhat stunning in and of itself. In 2007, Carleton jumped out to a 21-7 lead before St. Olaf poured it on, scoring 78 of the final 85 points to win 85-28. Was this year's 21-7 win more satisfying after how that game ended? "Yep," said Carleton coach Kurt Ramler, though he added, "Last year was last year. That was one game. This was big because it's the Carleton-Olaf rivalry, one we haven't gotten yet. It was nice for us to play well in this game and a it was game we deserved to win.

"It's big because it's a local rivalry, that's really big. I know if we were to pick one game to win it would be this one. Our players love it, this is what they wanted, they played their hearts out. We're very proud of them."

Carleton (4-0, 2-0 Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference) jumped out to a 21-0 lead in the first half, turning a St. Olaf fumble at midfield into a six-play drive, holding on a fourth down play at their 35-yard line, forcing three three-and-outs and intercepting a pass in the end zone to end the half. Although St. Olaf (3-2, 1-2) came out with a different look in the third quarter, lining running back Leon Clark up under center and getting in the end zone two plays later, Carleton didn't panic and finished off the 21-7 win.

"After last year, we came back a totally different team," McDonald explained. "We've come into every game knowing and believing that we can win the game. Our schemes are right, our players are right, we're just ready to go. It doesn't matter who it is, doesn't matter who we're playing. That's Carleton football, it's the way it should be."

"I think it's just most important to get a win, keep this run going, hopefully keep playing well the next couple of weeks," said senior quarterback Shane Henfling, who completed 25 of 32 passes for 262 yards and three touchdowns. "It's not really just another game, but you have to kind of look at it the same way."

Carleton turns the eagle
Carleton seniors Mac McDonald, left, and John Hanks turn Northfield's eagle to face the Carleton College campus.
Photo by Pat Coleman, D3sports.com
For now, Carleton is tied for first in the MIAC standings, a bit of an unfamiliar spot for a school far more accustomed to being atop a different set of rankings. Carleton is one of the top schools in the country, listed at No. 8 in the most recent U.S. News & World Report rankings of liberal arts colleges. "I really think we have the best combination of football and academics in the country," says Ramler. "We're the highest-ranked Division III school that plays a full 10-game Division III schedule with a chance to go to the playoffs." Several other schools in the Top 10 are members of the NESCAC, which restricts schools to eight football games and no postseason.

Recent years have been a struggle for Carleton, which went through a four-year stretch where it won a total of three games and hasn't had a winning season since 1993. But Ramler refuses to look at the school's high academic standards in anything but a positive light. "We don't recruit the kids that don't have the academic background. The kids that do love what we have to offer. It's not tough. We can compete against Ivies, we can compete against scholarships. We have one of the best educations in America. People look at it as a negative; I don't. We just don't recruit kids that aren't exemplary student-athletes."

If there was any threat of a down note to Carleton's afternoon, it would have been what came in the third quarter, when standout wide receiver Matt Frank left the game with what appeared to be a shoulder injury.

Frank caught 11 passes for 131 yards and two touchdowns before leaving the game in the third quarter. Carleton didn't score again.

"We've been able to go to (Chris) Gardner or Frank based on how the defense plays us every game this year," Ramler said. "Without Matt it's different. We become a little bit more one-dimensional. But we've got some good players, some good young players on our team. Someone's going to step up."

And the team believes that. Just ask McDonald: "It's a belief and trust, trust in each other. We really trust each other now and believe we're going to win every game."

Carleton might not win every game. But at least the eagle is pointing in the right direction.
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