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ISSUE 119 VOL 2 PUBLISHED 9/23/2005

Long-awaited victory: Oles hold on, gain first victory against Bethel since 1992

By Joel Stjernholm
Staff Writer

Friday, September 23, 2005

The last time the St. Olaf football team beat Bethel University, the world was a very different place. The first George Bush was serving his last months in office, cellphones resembled large plastic bricks and most of today’s college seniors were just getting their feet wet in the third grade.

Saturday, the Oles finally put those 13 years of bad memories to rest, beating the Royals for the first time since 1992 with a 27-25 victory at Manitou Field.

After falling behind 13-7 early in the third quarter, St. Olaf scored 22 unanswered points to take a 27-13 with 8:43 remaining. But the Oles allowed two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, a 94-yard kickoff return and 16-yard rushing score by Phil Porta. However, Bethel missed on all three of their extra point conversions in the second half, the last coming with 47 seconds remaining as James Bechdol ‘08 intercepted Wetzell’s potential game-tying two-point conversion pass in the end zone.

The much-vaunted Ole offensive performed well once again Saturday, amassing 455 total offensive yards on 80 plays. Wide receiver Horace Gant ‘08 earned MIAC player of the week honors for his performance, catching eight passes for 137 yards and two touchdowns. Quarterback Jason Wilsey ‘06 threw for 18 completions on 35 attempts for 228 yards and two touchdowns while tailback Jay Higgins ‘08 rushed for 75 yards on 19 carries, leading a backfield that combined for 247 rushing yards on 45 carries. Wide receiver Preston St. John ‘08 also gained 82 rushing yards on just five carries.

In addition to strong offensive play, St. Olaf put forth a solid defensive effort, shutting down one of the best rushing attacks in the country. Defensive lineman Thomas Warfield ‘07 set the tone by forcing Bethel’s All-American junior running back Phil Porta to fumble early in the first quarter. Porta, who averaged 31 carries and 209 yards per game before Saturday, was held to just 89 yards on 21 carries.

Peter St. Lawrence ‘07 led the defense with nine tackles, followed by linebacker and defensive captain John Davis ‘06, who had eight.

“Last year [against Bethel] we didn’t tackle well at all,” said defensive end James Bechdol ‘08. “This year, we swarmed to the ball.”

Perhaps the biggest play of the day came from Ryan St. John ‘09. St. John blocked a punt deep in Bethel territory late in the third quarter, setting up a touchdown run on the next play by his brother, Preston.

“I ran through the line and just wasn’t blocked,” said the younger St. John. “All of a sudden, I was at the punter.”

The Ole football team certainly had plenty of motivation heading into Saturday’s game. In addition to the 13-game losing streak against the Royals, Bethel was also head coach Chris Meidt’s alma mater and the site of his first college coaching job.

Meidt certainly deserves a share of the credit for this victory. Since arriving at St. Olaf after a successful seven-year tenure as Bethel’s offensive coordinator, Meidt and his staff have worked tirelessly to make St. Olaf a viable MIAC contender.

In addition to maintaining a strong recruiting presence in Minnesota, the St. Olaf staff has devoted considerable resources to developing recruiting connections in Florida. Strength coach Craig Stern managed the team’s off-season training efforts, which were praised by players as being the most rigorous and effective they had experienced.

“We did it for Coach Meidt,” Gant said.

When congratulated on the victory, Meidt turned his praise back to his team.

“The players worked really hard,” Meidt said.

Hard work has been a theme this year for the Oles, who have cleared the first major hurdle in their conference season. The schedule gets progressively harder for St. Olaf, culminating in road games against St. John’s and Concordia which may determine the conference champion.

Nevertheless, the Oles are determined not to take any opponent for granted. In contending for a MIAC title, every conference game is like a title game, as one loss – to any opponent – could spell the end of title hopes.

The Oles play the second in what is a string of three home games this Saturday when they take on Macalester at Manitou Field. Game time is 1 p.m.

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