DE PERE, Wis. - St. Norbert College benefited from opportunistic playmaking from a wide variety of sources as the Green Knights held on to defeat UW-Eau Claire 27-21 in a non-conference thriller at Schneider Stadium.
Eau Claire reached the St. Norbert 7-yard line in the game's final seconds, getting off its last offensive play with the clock running with 4 seconds left. Blugolds' quarterback Josiah Johnson threw for tight end Joe Swanson, who crossed the end zone on a drag route from the right side. A hustling St. Norbert linebacker Kevin Pedersen stayed with Swanson on his route and knocked down the pass just before it reached Swanson's hands to seal the victory.
The triumph for St. Norbert was its first over a Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference foe since a 25-7 win over UW-Platteville on Nov. 5, 1983 at Minahan Stadium in De Pere. It was also the first football win for a sitting Midwest Conference member over the WIAC since 1935. St. Norbert joined the MWC for football in 1984.
Eau Claire took a 7-0 lead on its second offensive series, getting a 33-yard touchdown run from Austin Belot with 3:18 left in the first quarter. The Green Knights responded with a 12-play, 75-yard march capped off on a 19-yard touchdown pass from Gage McClanhan to Matt Galanopoulos just 1:10 into the second quarter. McClanhan entered the game for the first time on the series, completing 7 of 9 passes for 71 yards on the drive.
The Blugolds melted 8:14 off the clock on their next series, but were only able to traverse 33 yards on 11 plays before punting. St. Norbert fumbled the ball back to Eau Claire four plays later at the St. Norbert 31, but a big sack of Eau Claire quarterback Jonathan Malueg forced a punt to the St. Norbert 10. On the next play, McClanahan found Staehling for a 90-yard touchdown pass to put the Green Knights ahead 14-7 entering halftime.
Enter another St. Norbert playmaker early in the second half. Eau Claire found itself in a third-and-3 situation at its own 26 on its first series of the third quarter, when Malueg's pass was intercepted by Jake Berken for a 31-yard return for a touchdown and a 21-7 edge with 10:10 left in the third quarter. Following an Eau Claire punt and a St. Norbert turnover, the Blugolds got back to within one score on a 2-yard touchdown run by Beloit with 2:49 left in the period.
Eau Claire marched to the St. Norbert 27 early in the fourth quarter before Joe Peterson corralled his third interception of the game, hauling Johnson's pass in at the goal line for a touchback. St. Norbert then needed five plays to score, with McClanahan finding a seam to find Samuel Staehling, who streaked to the end zone for a 38-yard touchdown. The point-after try failed, giving the Green Knights a 27-14 lead with 10:31 to go.
The Blugolds would make it a one-score game a couple of possessions later, needing nine plays to go 64 yards to score on Conrad Bolz's 13-yard touchdown run with 4:40 to go.
St. Norbert couldn't convert a third-and-1 on its next possession, punting the ball back to Eau Claire at its own 36 with 2:50 left. Eau Claire would convert a fourth-and-13 on a 23-yard pass from Johnson to Darius Jones to the St. Norbert 32. The Blugolds would need four more plays to get to the St. Norbert 7, setting up the game's tension-packed closing moment.
The Green Knights outgained Eau Claire in total offense 364-335. McClanahan came off the bench to complete 13 of 18 passes for 254 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. Staehling had five receptions for 172 yards and two scores, giving him 36 for his career - one shy of Mike Whitehouse's career record of 37 receiving touchdowns. Matt Galanopoulos had eight catches for 85 yards and one touchdown.
Belot powered Eau Claire's rushing attack with 128 yards on 26 carries and two touchdowns. Johnson came on in relief of Malueg to complete 15 of 20 passes for 137 yards with one interception.
Maccabee Barrett had a game-high 10 tackles for St. Norbert, which included two forced fumbles, two tackles-for-loss and one quarterback sack. Walter McBride and Kordell Draves had six tackles apiece.
Eau Claire's defense was paced by Alex Mashek's seven tackles, with three tackles-for-loss and a fumble recovery. The Blugolds' All-American linebacker, Sam Romanski, also had seven tackles, including a quarterback sack.