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ISSUE 120 VOL 1 PUBLISHED 9/22/2006

Ham(line) Sandwiched: Defense dominates, offense sparkles in MIAC opener

By Matthew Stortz
Staff Writer

Friday, September 22, 2006

The St. Olaf football team won its conference opener Saturday, defeating MIAC foe Hamline by a score of 31-6 at Manitou Field. With their victory over the Pipers, the Oles improve their overall record to 3-0, having defeated Luther and Valley City State in their first two games.

St. Olaf took an early lead over Hamline when quarterback Matt Penz ’08 and receiver Horace Gant ’08 connected on a 19-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter. The Oles never looked back, scoring 31 unanswered points before giving up a touchdown late in the fourth quarter. St. Olaf held the Hamline offense to just 128 yards, 63 yards rushing and 65 yards passing.

The Oles played their usual stellar game on offense, accumulating 412 yards on just 63 plays. Making just his third collegiate start, Penz completed 20 of his 36 pass attempts for 350 yards and three touchdowns. Gant caught four passes for 116 yards and two touchdowns, and receiver Andrew Schmiesing ’08 caught five passes for 113 yards and a touchdown. On the ground, eight Oles carried the ball a combined 27 times for 80 yards.

Defensively, six Oles recorded sacks, including team captains James Bechdol ’08 and Thomas Warfield ‘07, Peter Nelson ’07, Charlie Mylrea ’08, Ben Veach ’07 and Brady Swanson ’09. Bechdol also forced two fumbles, blocked a punt, and defended a pass. Defensive back Jeremy Lund ’07 intercepted a pass, his first of the season.

After an 8-2 campaign in 2005 and a 7-3 season in 2004, expectations are high for the Oles in 2006. Last season’s 8-2 mark represents the best St. Olaf football record since 1978, as the 2005 team finished one win shy of a playoff berth.

Fortunately, the 2006 team boasts several talented returning starters who are ready to pick up where they left off. On offense, Gant, Schmiesing and Preston St. John ‘08 lead a receiver corps that is easily the deepest in the MIAC and arguably the most talented. Bobby Andrade ’07 and Jay Higgins ’08 (currently out with an MCL injury) return to a backfield that has been impressive early this season.

St. Olaf also returns four starters to an offensive line that allowed just ten sacks last season, by far the least in the MIAC.

Defensively, Bechdol and Nelson anchor a strong defensive line, with linebackers Warfield, Mylrea and Steven Wood ’07 set to plug any leaks. Hutchins and team captain Peter St. Lawrence ’07 lead a versatile defensive secondary that can defend the pass or stop the run.

Additionally, the Oles will rely on a handful of impressive new starters at key positions. Penz replaces Jason Wilsey ’06, who garnered first team all-MIAC honors in 2005 after leading a St. Olaf offense that ranked fifth in the nation. Though he has big shoes to fill, Penz has proven himself ready; in his first three collegiate starts, he has completed over 60 percent of his passes for 752 yards and six touchdowns, throwing only one interception.

Lund, who was a wide receiver in each of the last three seasons, was called upon to replace first team all-MIAC honoree Matt Dean ’06 at cornerback. Offensive coordinators have challenged Lund repeatedly in his first three games, but Lund has responded in turn, garnering a team-high 20 tackles and defending three passes to go along with Saturday’s interception.

"Lund is an incredible athlete," St. Lawrence said. "I’m not surprised he’s making plays. I’m just happy that he’s on defense."

The Oles will face several challenges on the road to the MIAC title – their schedule is arguably the toughest in the MIAC – but one thing is certain: the 2006 St. Olaf football team has the talent and work ethic to play with the best teams in the country. If all goes according to plan, Ole fans could be in for another memorable season.

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