The Oles excelled in all facets of the game before a packed crowd at Manitou Field, despite a rain-soaked field and a 30-minute weather delay. They overcame a fumble on their first possession and two early special teams miscues, allowing a blocked punt and a long kickoff return. With the short field, Gustavus gained a 9-7 lead, though the defense forced the Gusties to settle for a field goal after first and goal at the one-yard line. By halftime, the Oles led 35-12.
Quarterback Matt Penz '08 threw five touchdowns in that first half, three to Andrew Schmiesing '08 and two to Horace Gant '08. Penz and Schmiesing connected for another touchdown in the third quarter. For his efforts, Penz was named MIAC Offensive Player of the Week.
Penz also set a St. Olaf record for touchdown passes in a game, while Schmiesing climbed into a tie for first in all-time touchdown receptions with 25. Gant is just three behind Schmiesing.
Coach Chris Meidt was extremely pleased with his team's performance. "We played just awesome," Meidt said. "We had a couple of early mistakes, but the last 50 minutes of football was probably the best I've ever seen them play."
Meidt also credited the offensive line with preventing Gustavus from getting to Penz and disrupting the team's rhythm. "They brought lots of pressure, but the offensive line picked it up," said Meidt. "That allowed Matt, Andrew and Horace to have the day they did."
The offensive line has allowed only three sacks in five games.
Gustavus entered the game ranked second in the MIAC in yards per game, but the Ole defense limited them to just 296 yards. They forced three turnovers from Gustie quarterback Jordan Stolp and limited top receiver Chad Arlt to only three catches for 22 yards.
St. Olaf's offensive statistics were slightly more gaudy, as the Oles ran up 602 yards of total offense and increased their scoring average. Penz was 28-35 for 362 yards to go along with his six touchdowns. He leads the MIAC in passing yards and passing efficiency, with only one interception against his 15 touchdowns.
Schmiesing finished with 138 yards receiving, while Gant finished with 117 yards and an impressive one-handed catch for his second touchdown. Gant is tied for the MIAC lead in receiving touchdowns with seven.
Evan Endsley '09 led the balanced ground attack with 58 yards rushing, as well as 16 yards receiving and 62 on kickoff returns. Cody Watkins '09 contributed 54 yards rushing and a second-half touchdown. Jay Higgins '08 scored the last of the Oles' eight touchdowns on a late one-yard plunge.
Paul Fortman '08, who contributed eight extra points and a field goal, as well as the punting duties, joined Penz in receiving honors from the MIAC after the game. He was named MIAC Special Teams Player of the Week.
Other honors for the team include their highest rankings ever in two national polls, 18th in the D3football.com poll and 14th in the AFCA poll.
However, the Oles cannot afford to rest on their laurels in the challenging MIAC. Meidt noted that one of the team's goals for the season was to finish 5-0 in September. Mission accomplished. But five more games and other goals lie ahead.
Next up is fourth-ranked St. John's, which has ended St. Olaf's previous two 5-0 starts. The perennial national-title contenders barely beat MIAC bottom-feeder Carleton last week, winning 10-7 on a touchdown with less than a minute remaining.
However, the Johnnies feature the conference's top-ranked defense in terms of points allowed and yards allowed. Conversely, St. Olaf has the conference's top-ranked total offense and scoring offense.
Meidt did not hesitate to credit St. John's. "The fact that they've ended our unbeaten streaks is a testament to their program," Meidt said. "They have the greatest tradition in Divison III and some of the best players in the country."
The Oles will certainly use those two tough defeats as motivation to take down St. John's Saturday in Collegeville. A fan bus will take St. Olaf students to the game.