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ISSUE 118 VOL 6 PUBLISHED 10/22/2004

Road warriors: Oles use strong ground game to overcome Gustavus

By Ryan Maus
Sports Editor

Friday, October 22, 2004

Winning games on the road is one of the most difficult accomplishments in football, but the St. Olaf football team came up with a big one Saturday at Gustavus. The Oles controlled both the line of scrimmage and the game clock en route to a 23-18 victory.

With temperatures hovering in the low 30s and a strong wind sweeping across the field, a low-scoring contest seemed almost a certainty. The Gusties jumped on the scoreboard first when Kerry Zajicek caught a 31-yard touchdown pass with 1:20 left to go in the first quarter. In the meantime, the Oles were unable to capitalize on their scoring chances throughout much of the first half. A 16-play, 64-yard drive to open the second quarter ended with a missed field goal, and St. Olafs next drive was cut short by a Gustavus interception.

With the offense sputtering, it was the Ole defense and special teams that would provide a much-needed lift. Nate Johnson 05, an All-MIAC punter a year ago, dropped a perfectly placed 50-yard punt inside the Gustavus two-yard line with 54 seconds left in the first half. The Ole defense, aided by a dropped pass, forced the Gusties to punt three plays later. A short punt allowed St. Olaf to regain the ball at the Gustavus 38-yard line with 34 seconds to play. Quarterback Jason Wilsey 06 completed passes to Horace Gant 08 and Nick Rost 07 to put the Oles at the five-yard line with only one second remaining.

With enough time left for just one play, head coach Christ Meidt elected to go for the touchdown rather than attempt a short field goal. His offense did not disappoint. Andrew Schmeising 08 made a spectacular over-the-shoulder catch in the corner of the end zone as time expired in the first half. Paul Fortman 08 kicked the extra point and the Oles went into the locker room with a 7-6 lead.

The play was just a basic fade route to the pylon, and Wilsey placed it perfectly, Schmeising said after the game. Thats exactly how the play is supposed to work.

Gustavus took a quick 12-6 lead on their first possession of the third quarter, but St. Olaf answered on their next drive. The Oles, who ran the ball a whopping 59 times for 189 yards on the day, marched down the field in 17 plays, culminated with a one-yard touchdown run by Ben Roff 08. The two-point conversion failed, but the Oles still held a slim 13-12 lead. James Bechdol 08 forced a fumble on ensuing Gustavus drive, and a 30-yard field goal gave the Oles a 16-13 lead early in the fourth quarter.

Jay Higgins 08, filling in for injured tailback Bobby Andrade 07, accumulated a season-high 100 yards on 20 carries and was a key cog in an Ole rushing attack that kept the Gustavus offense off the field for much of the day. The Oles decisively won the time of possession battle 38:04 to 21:56.

It was in the fourth quarter that the Oles would finally pull away. Deonte Hutchins 08 intercepted a pass at the Gustavus 32-yard line, eventually setting up a one-yard Marc Olson 07 touchdown run to make the score 23-12. The Gusties added another score late in the game, but it wasnt enough as St. Olaf would hold on for the 23-18 win.

While the rushing game was the key to victory, the relatively young Ole receiving corps did well in battling the elements and coming up with numerous big plays.

I think having a lot of talented receivers will really help take some pressure off the running game, Schmeising said. Were a pretty young group [the Oles top four wideouts are sophomores or first-years], but with Bobby [Andrade] out for the year, we need to help pick up some of the slack.

With the win, St. Olaf improved to 5-2 overall and 2-2 in the MIAC. The Oles return home this week to take on the Hamline Royals, with kickoff at 1 p.m.

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