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ISSUE 119 VOL 4 PUBLISHED 10/7/2005

Homecoming highlight reel: Football uses big plays to beat Tommies

By Joel Stjernholm
Contributing Writer

Friday, October 7, 2005

The St. Olaf football team improved their record to 4-0 with a 53-27 victory against University of St. Thomas last Saturday at Manitou Field. The victory marked St. Olaf'’s first win against St. Thomas since 2000 and their first 4-0 start since 1978.

Despite the final score, the Oles and Tommies were evenly matched for much of the first half. When the Tommies scored first on a touchdown pass in their opening drive, Jay Higgins '’08 responded with a touchdown run. St. Thomas took a 14-7 lead two minutes later on a 40-yard rushing touchdown, but St. Olaf again responded with a rushing touchdown from Ben Roff '’08. Then, instead of kicking the ball for one extra point, St. Olaf converted a tricky two-point conversion. Holder Andrew Schmeising ’'08 took a direct snap and threw the ball to a wide-open Higgins in the end zone. With that conversion, the Oles took the lead and never looked back, scoring 38 unanswered points. St. Thomas didn’t score again until the fourth quarter, when the game was well in hand.

Wide receiver Horace Gant ’'08 led the St. Olaf offense with four receptions for 131 yards and a touchdown. Schmeising, Higgins and Jeremy Lund '’07 also added receiving touchdowns. Altogether, St. Olaf’'s receiving corps combined for 15 catches and 339 yards on the game, the most they'’ve garnered in a single game this season.

Higgins led the Ole rushing attack, earning 80 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries despite being relieved partway through the third quarter. Roff and Preston St. John ’'08 added 35 and 28 yards, respectively, to the Oles'’ 166 total rushing yards.

“"The team played great overall,"” said St. John. "Wilsey ‘('06) played really well and everyone was very physical.”"

Quarterback Jason Wilsey turned in an exceptional performance, connecting on 14 of his 26 pass attempts for 320 yards and four touchdowns with only one interception. Those numbers bring Wilsey'’s season totals up to 62 pass completions for 982 yards, 109 rushing yards, 10 touchdowns with only four interceptions, making him the most highly-rated offensive player in the MIAC.

Wilsey'’s offensive line has contributed considerably to his success, having allowed only two sacks in four games.

"“We feel the only way to do our job is to physically dominate the guys across from us from start to finish,”" said lineman Peter Cathcart ‘06.

On defense, the Oles shut down St. Thomas for most of the contest. The Oles were led by James Bechdol ’'08, who earned seven tackles and 1.5 sacks on the game. Nick Rydberg ’'08 amassed 7.5 tackles, and Ben Veach '’07 earned four tackles and a sack. Captain John Davis '’06 emerged as a versatile defensive force, defending two passes, intercepting a pass, recovering a fumble and making one tackle for loss.

“"The defense played great,"” said linebacker Stephen Wood '’07. "“It really helps when the offense plays so well too. When they'’re driving, we'’re fresh and ready to play our best game.”"

Though the Oles have cleared both Bethel and St. Thomas early in the season, their toughest matchups still lie ahead. Four of St. Olaf’'s next five contests are on the road, including games against a much-improved Carleton team, Gustavus and Hamline, none of which the Oles can underestimate.

After those games, the Oles must travel to St. John'’s and Concordia in consecutive weeks. The Johnnies and Cobbers each remain undefeated thus far.

Despite their upcoming challenges, the Oles still have reason for optimism. For the first time in decades, the Oles are serious contenders for the MIAC title. Moreover, they are committed to each other and to the camaraderie required of great teams.

"“I have full confidence in the guy next to me that he will get the job done,”" Cathcart said.

The Oles play cross-town rival Carleton next Saturday at Carleton. The game will begin at 1 p.m.

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