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ISSUE 118 VOL 7 PUBLISHED 11/5/2004

Oles stun Johnnies

By Ryan Maus
Sports Editor

Friday, November 5, 2004

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but under the right circumstances, a facial expression is worth oh-so-much more.

The sullen looks on the faces of St. Johns football faithful exiting Manitou Field Saturday spoke volumes. The upstart St. Olaf Oles won their fourth consecutive game, stunning the 2003 NCAA Division III National Champion Johnnies 21-19 at a rain-soaked and sloppy Manitou Field.

The Johnnies, a team built on speed and quickness, were unable to cope with the extremely muddy conditions. Saturdays game was played through a constant drizzle, and Manitou Field was a veritable quagmire by games end.

Turnovers were definitely the deciding factor in the Ole victory. St. Johns gave the ball away a whopping eight times while the Oles had just one interception. The defending champions had committed just 15 turnovers in their previous eight games.

The now-infamous Manitou mud pit made St. Olafs first score possible. In a bizarre play, St. Johns Mike Zauhar slipped while attempting to field a punt by Nate Johnson 05 early in the first. The ball hit the ground and bounced off Zauhars chest, allowing the Oles to recover the ball at the St. Johns 34-yard line. Four plays later, quarterback Jason Wilsey 06 connected with Preston St. John 08 on a 10-yard touchdown pass to give St. Olaf a 7-0 lead.

Once I saw them come out and turn the ball over, I felt pretty good about our chances, head coach Chris Meidt said.

St. Johns fared just as poorly on their next possession. The Johnnies sailed a long snap over the head of punter Martin Morud, allowing the Oles to recover the ball at the one-yard line. Ben Roff 08 punched through for a one-yard touchdown run four plays later. The large contingent of St. Johns fans could only stare in disbelief as St. Olaf took a 14-0 lead with 4:21 to go in the first quarter.

However, the defending champs would not go down without a fight. Touchdown passes of 59 and 75 yards in the second quarter made the score 14-13 (one extra point failed). St. Olaf forced a total of five turnovers in the first half but lead by just one point.

With both teams unable to generate much offense amid the swamp-like playing conditions, the games second half was a defensive struggle, and the much-maligned Ole unit was up to the challenge. The powerful St. Johns offense, which had averaged 36.4 points per game before Saturday, was kept in check, managing just one touchdown in the games final two quarters.

The winning score for the Oles was the result of yet another St. Johns turnover. Linebacker Craig Botnen 05 produced St. Olafs third interception of the day late in the third quarter, giving St. Olaf the ball deep in Johnnie territory. Wilsey then put the Oles ahead 21-13 with a one-yard quarterback sneak. St. Olaf would hold on for the 21-19 win.

After the game, Meidt emphasized how important Saturdays victory was for his team.

You have to beat the best before you can be considered a true threat, and St. Johns is definitely one of those teams, Meidt said. This is a tremendous win for our program.

Saturdays spectacular defensive effort did not go unnoticed in the conference. Botnen, who collected 11 solo tackles in addition to his key interception, was named MIAC defensive player of the week. Johnson, who punted 11 times for a 39.2 yard average, was also a deserving selection as MIAC special teams player of the week. Johnson placed two punts inside the Johnnie five-yard line and deftly handled two poor snaps in the fourth quarter, key plays in the win.

Other defensive standouts were defensive back Deonte Hutchins 08, who came away with two interceptions and anchored the Ole secondary, and linebacker Matt Dean 06, who recovered a fumble and intercepted one pass.

With the victory, the Oles improved their record to 6-2 (4-2 in the conference), ensuring their first winning season under the tutelage of Meidt. It was only St. Olafs second win over St. Johns in their last 17 meetings, dating back to 1987.

Things dont get any easier for the Oles this week. The Concordia Cobbers, who are leading the conference and ranked fourth in the entire nation, will make the trek down to Northfield Saturday. Kickoff is at 1 p.m.

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