ROCK ISLAND, Ill. – Augustana rode a punishing ground attack in the first half and smothering defensive effort in the second to post a 20-10 win over Mount St. Joseph in the inaugural Austin E. Knowlton Kickoff Classic Saturday night at Lindberg Stadium. Senior Eric Chandler rushed for 167 yards in barely more than a half of action and the Viking defense held the Lions without a second-half first down until the final minute of the game. Augustana committed four turnovers and also had a 90-yard Matt Roche kickoff return for a touchdown called back, but survived to win its first season opener at home since 2008.
The Vikings took the opening kickoff and marched from their own 28 to the Lion 28 before losing a fumble. However, the defense forced a quick three-and-out and sophomore quarterback Sam Frasco led a 10-play 72-yard march for the game's first score, a 10-yard burst around left end by senior Kyle Snow. Frasco rushed for 27 yards and completed three of three passes on the drive.
It looked like MSJ would get the equalizer on the ensuing drive, but after the Lions went 75 yards in eight plays, freshman John Bastian forced a fumble at the goal line which senior Sean Walker recovered in the end zone to end the threat.
A Chandler 60-yard run set up the Vikings' next score, a 23-yard Conner Murray field goal which put Augustana up 10-0 four seconds into the second quarter.
The Lions only had to go seven yards for a touchdown to cut it to 10-7. After a Josh Frakes interception and return to the Viking seven-yard line, MSJ quarterback Caleb Watkins hit 6' 8" John Peters on a third-down fade route in the right corner of the end zone.
The Vikings took a 13-7 lead into halftime. With the Lions on the move in Viking territory late in the half, junior Bo Goshorn intercepted a Watkins pass and returned it to 40 yards to the MSJ 45 yard-line. Murray converted a 22-yard field goal at the halftime gun.
After the teams combined for 435 total yards in the first half, the third quarter settled into a defensive struggle. Chandler busted off runs of 14 and 19 yards on the Vikings' first two plays of the third quarter, but had to leave the game with an injury. The rest of the period yielded just two first downs for the Vikings and none for MSJ, although the Lions cut the Augustana lead to 13-10 with a 27-yard Shane Kelly field goal following a Viking fumble.
Senior Mike McLean, who took over at running back after Chandler's injury, carried most of the load on the final scoring drive of the night. The Vikings took over at their own 16 with 11:31 remaining after yet another MSJ three-and-out. McLean busted off a 30-yard run into Lion territory and then carried six more times for an additional 30 yards on the march, finishing it off with a one-yard plunge to make it 20-10 Augustana with 2:47 left.
The Lions finally picked up their only two first downs of the second half in the game's final minute, but their final drive was ended by a Ben Fornek interception in the end zone.
Chandler finished with 167 rushing yards on 19 carries despite playing just two plays into the third quarter. McLean filled in nicely with 60 yards and a touchdown on seven carries. Frasco ran for 62 yards and completed 16 of 21 passes for 101 more. Augustana finished with 298 rushing yards and 399 total yards in the game. Senior Nick Krantz was the Vikings' leading receiver with seven catches for 53 yards.
Walker had a big game for the Vikings defensively, with four total tackles, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and two passes broken up. Senior Erik Westerberg led Augustana with seven tackles. Goshorn and Fornek each had five solo stops and an interception. Coach Rob Cushman's defense limited the Lions to just 60 total yards in the second half and MSJ's two scoring drives covered a total of only seven yards.
The Vikings, 1-0, are back at home on Saturday, September 14, hosting Central in a 6:00 p.m. contest at Lindberg Stadium.