The win left St. Olaf 8-2 overall and 6-2 in the MIAC to close down the season, giving the team and head coach Chris Meidt their third consecutive eight-win season, the second such streak in school history and first since 1969-71.
Quarterback Matt Penz '08 left the game on the game's fifth drive with an injury, though the offense didn't sputter in his absence. Backup quarterbacks John Haberman '10 and Tyler Hart '08 stepped in ably. In addition to Watkins' five touchdowns, Haberman also ran in a score, while Penz hooked up with favorite target Horace Gant '08 for an early touchdown. Staked to the early lead, the Oles never looked back, though St. Thomas receiver PJ Thiesen had 278 yards and two touchdowns through the air.
"Our defense played great coming out of the gate," Meidt said. "I was really impressed with how we played. I told the guys that if you combine our last 40 minutes against Carleton and our first 20 minutes against St. Thomas, they played as good of football as I've ever seen."
St. Olaf scored 78 points in the last 40 minutes at Carleton last weekend. The recent offensive outbursts were characteristic of this Ole squad. Their average of 49.0 points per game eclipsed the previous record, while their average of 512.8 yards per game edged the 2005 squad in the recordbooks.
Credit St. Olaf's senior class, which went 31-9 in their tenure at the school, for the outstanding capstone campaign to their four years in black and gold. Blake Hamel '08 and Eric Yuen '08 each started all 40 games of their careers on the offensive line. Defensive end James Bechdol '08 also started all 40 games. Those three, along with offensive standouts Penz, Gant and Andrew Schmiesing '08, have garnered multiple individual accolades during their careers at St. Olaf to accompany the team's success.
Punter/kicker Paul Fortman '08 will also graduate, taking with him nine recognitions as the MIAC's Special Teams Player of the Week. "They are an incredible group of guys, personally, character-wise, their sense of humor and the way they take care of each other," Meidt said. "It's tough to say goodbye to each group, but these guys had a special bond that was deeper than most."
Several seniors have re-written the record books. Penz finished with 26 touchdowns and just seven interceptions on the year. He holds the single-game, single-season, and career touchdown pass records, as well as the single-season record for passing yards with his 2007 total of 2774.
Gant now holds the career record for receptions and yards, as well as the single-season and career records for touchdowns. He totaled 65 catches for 1,121 yards and 12 touchdowns. Compatriot Schmiesing trails only Gant in career touchdowns, while he sits near the top in career receptions and career receiving yards. Another graduating receiver, Preston St. John, moved up to sixth all-time in receptions after a solid senior campaign.
With so many important players at important positions to replace, an important offseason looms for the Oles. "It will provide a great opportunity for our junior class and our sophomore class to step up," Meidt said.
Meidt and his fellow coaches have already begun recruiting in earnest for the team's class of 2012. The team returns leading running backs Watkins and Evan Endsley '09, as well as several other starters on each side of the ball.