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ISSUE 120 VOL 8 PUBLISHED 11/17/2006

Football squeaks by Tommies: Final minute touchdown seals improbable comeback win

By Matthew Stortz
Staff Writer

Friday, November 17, 2006

The St. Olaf College football team concluded the 2006 season with a 35-31 comeback victory over St. Thomas last Saturday in St. Paul. With the win the Oles improve their record to 8-2, marking the team’s second straight eight win season.

St. Thomas drew first blood with a rushing touchdown five minutes into the game. Two Paul Fortman ’08 field goals brought the Oles within one point, but the Tommies struck again, scoring another rushing touchdown and earning a 13-6 lead after a missed extra point attempt. The Tommies added another touchdown early in the second quarter, opening up a 21-6 lead. The Oles responded with their first touchdown of the game, a 25-yard touchdown strike from quarterback Matt Penz ’08 to receiver Andrew Schmiesing ’08, but the Tommies scored in turn, taking a 28-13 lead into the half.

Though the first half belonged to the Tommies, the Oles took possession of the second half when defensive back Deontae Hutchins ‘08 returned an interception 98 yards for a touchdown late in the third quarter.

“I just did what coach told me to do, went where coach told me to go,” Hutchins said of his interception. “The quarterback was under pressure and he forced a bad throw off. I don’t blame him though. I wouldn’t want to get hit by James Bechdol either.”

Hutchins has returned two interceptions for touchdowns this season, though his first score was called back due to an off-sides penalty.

The Tommies kicked a field goal toward the end of the third quarter, but those points would be their last of the day. The Ole defense held the Tommies scoreless in the fourth quarter.

Evan Endsley ’09 scored a three-yard rushing touchdown for the Oles early in the fourth quarter, and a successful two-point conversion attempt brought the Oles within three points of the Tommies. With just one minute left on the clock, Penz and Schmiesing connected again for a 17-yard touchdown, giving the Oles a four-point lead they would not relinquish. Hutchins sealed the Tommies’ fate when he intercepted a pass with just six seconds left.

“I feel bad for them, because they thought they had a chance,” Hutchins said. “But they did not.”

Penz completed 18 of his 39 pass attempts for 186 yards and two touchdowns. Though his yardage was significantly shy of his season average, Penz collected enough yards to break former Ole great Jason Wilsey’s ’06 single season passing record with 2,636 yards this season. Penz, a junior, will have a chance to best his own record next season.

Despite an excellent season, the Oles were not selected to go to the playoffs, falling just one spot short in playoff balloting. While senior Oles have expressed disappointment in falling just short of the postseason, each deserves to be proud of what they have accomplished, elevating the team from MIAC mediocrity in 2003 to MIAC contender in 2005 and 2006. It has been decades since St. Olaf has experienced the kind of football success the Oles have earned in recent years.

As this season comes to a close, one can’t help but look to next year. There will be several holes to fill, particularly on defense. But retiring Oles can rest assured that the next class, the class of 2008, is up to the challenge. Penz, Hutchins, Schmiesing, Bechdol and more are ready to lead a team that has the potential to be St. Olaf’s strongest football team ever.

Whether or not that potential is realized remains to be seen. But one thing is certain: The class of 2007 can hand the ball off to the class of 2008 with the knowledge that no one could be better prepared to receive it.

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