Gustavus Offense Struggles To Find Rhythm, Football Falls To St. Thomas 28-14
St. Paul - The Gustavus Adolphus football team suffered a 28-14 loss to No. 3 St. Thomas on Saturday afternoon at O'Shaunessey Stadium. Despite cutting St. Thomas' lead to seven points (21-14) with nine minutes remaining in the game, a Gustavus interception followed by a Tommie touchdown turned out to be the difference in the game. Gustavus falls to 2-3 overall and 1-3 in the MIAC with the loss, while St. Thomas remains undefeated at 5-0 overall and 3-0 in the MIAC.
"We have to judge our success based on the little things that happen every single game. Our goal every single week is to win, but right now we have to evaluate what we are doing well and work to improve on what we are not. This is a team that has suffered a couple tough losses, but it is also a confident team and I'm proud of the way we battled today," said Head Coach Peter Haugen.
Gustavus' potent running game ran into its kryptonite in the form of the St. Thomas' 3-4 defensive front this afternoon. The Gustavus ground game, which was averaging over 250 yards per game coming into today, was held to a mere 32 total yards. Both quarterback Muresuk Mena (Sr., Inver Grove Heights, Minn.) and Phillip Butler (Jr., St. Paul, Minn.) ran for 18 yards each to lead the Gusties.
"It was a tough day for us offensively," stated Haugen. "We believed we would be able to move the ball a little better than we did and that's a credit to their well-disguised pressure packages that gave us fits."
The Tommies were the first to draw blood, taking advantage of a running in to the punter penalty on the opening drive and scoring four plays later to go up 8-0 after a successful two point conversion. St. Thomas quarterback Matt O'Connell completed a 35-yard post to Dan Noehring for the game's opening touchdown.
It would take until the final minute of the half before another point was added to the scoreboard. Following a Torey Asao (Jr., Chaska, Minn.) interception at the five-yard-line and a three and out by the Gustauvs offense, the Tommie offense took over at the Gustavus 43-yar-line. O'Connell completed a 23-yard pass to Dan Ferrazzo before finding Kyle Whitley in the end zone for a touchdown from nine yards out two plays later. After the extra point, St. Thomas would head to the locker room with a 15-0 lead.
The Tommies opened up a 21-0 lead after forcing Gustavus to a three-and-out on its opening drive of the third quarter. O'Connell broke several tackles and before reversing his field and taking a keeper 74 yards for a touchdown.
After fumbling on their next possession, hope seemed to be all but lost for the Gusties. Thanks to an Anthony Boyce (So., Excelsior, Minn.) sack and forced fumble, Gustavus received the momentum swing it needed. Cory Colvard (Sr., Centerville, Minn.) picked up the Boyce forced fumble and ran it back 53 yards for a Gustavus touchdown.
Gustavus intercepted O'Connell on St. Thomas' following two possessions, yet couldn't find a way to capitalize as the score would remain 21-7 by the start of the fourth quarter.
With under 10 minutes remaining in the game, Gustavus cut the lead to 21-14 on a six-yard touchdown from Mena to Butler. Mena's intended pass was knocked out of the hands of Michael Hintze (So., Brooklyn Park, Minn.) before falling into the arms of Butler in the corner of the end zone.
The Gustavus defense would come up with another big stop on St. Thomas' next possession, gaining control of the ball at the GAC 33-yard-line with 6:49 on the clock. On second down and nine, Mena's pass was picked off Tremayn Williams and the Tommies took over at the 18-yard-line. Two plays later, Brenton Braddock added the insurance touchdown from four yards out to bring the score to a final at 28-14.
Gustavus totaled 187 yards compared to St. Thomas' 468 in the game. Mena was 17-for-25 with one touchdown and one interception through the air. His top target of the day was Hintze who brought in five catches for 62 yards.
"We have struggled to find consistency in the passing game over the last couple of weeks and that has to improve," said coach Haugen about his squad's aerial attack. "We've been a little bit hit-or-miss and we need to try to execute the basic stuff. I have faith in our guys and complete confidence in that they can turn this thing around."
A bright spot for the Gusties was the stellar turnover generation by the defense. Corey Shea's defensive unit recovered three fumbles and picked off three passes to finish +4 in turnover margin.
"The turnover creation has been awesome and that has put us in a position to win every game," stated Haugen. "Certainly today was no different and we made some big-time plays in big-time situations. More than anything, the defense believes that turnover generation is its M.O. and that is something to build on."
Anthony Boyce led the defensive effort with a game-high 14 tackles (11 solo) and a sack. Torey Asao intercepted two passes, while Dilger also had one pick.
St. Thomas quarterback Matt O'Connell was 20-for-34 for 220 yards and two touchdowns. He spread the ball around to eight different receivers over the course of the game. The sophomore was also the game's leading rusher, running for 149 yards on 13 carries.
The Gustavus football team will be back on the field Saturday, Oct. 13 when it takes on Valley City State for Homecoming at 1:30 p.m.