For the past three seasons, the Gustavus Adolphus offense was so prolific that rarely did the defense have to shut down opponents to win games. This may still be one of the most prolific offenses in the country, but this defense is ready to make a name for themselves as well. Saturday they took a big step, stymying the offense of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls for three quarters in a 24-21 victory that moved the Gusties to 2-0 this season.
Gustavus Adolphus took command of this game from the very start. Taking the opening kickoff, QB Michael Veldman led an impressive 6-play, 70-yard drive that took just 2:48 before the Gusties were up 7-0. After completing his first two passes on the drive, Veldman found receiver George Buckner for a 41-yard touchdown and GAC was fired up.
However, the Falcons soared on their first drive of the game. putting together an impressive drive of their own. Michael Diggins got the drive rolling with a 20-yard run to move the ball to the UWRF 47. There, it looked like the drive may stall when quarterback Sawyer Moon’s first two passes fell incomplete, but his 31-yard completion to Christenson gave the Falcons a first and 10 at the Gustavus 37. Diggins followed by carrying the ball on five straight plays, reaching the home team’s four-yard line for first and goal. There, Moon found Evan Verhota for a touchdown and the game was tied.
From there, both defenses stiffened and the first quarter ended with the score tied a seven. Gustavus Adolphus would get the ball a little over a minute into the second quarter, and they got a field goal that would give them the lead, a lead they would not relinquish. Veldman had been hurt midway through the first quarter, and Sam Archer took over. He helped to move the team to the River Falls 10, but the drive would stall there. Brendan Boche kicked a 27-yard field goal and it was 10-7 Gusties.
On the Falcons next possession, they were forced to punt after three plays. Owen Schommer took the snap, but Matt Berkner came free and blocked the kick. Kevin Krohn recovered at the three and raced into the end zone for the score and, suddenly, the Gusties had the 17-7 lead.
On the next possession for River Falls the defense would make a huge play for Gustavus. Moon had the Falcons in great position when, on the first play of the drive, he raced for 43-yards down to the Gustavus 32. Diggins then ran for 15 to set up first and 10 at the 17. Linebacker Zach Martinez then made two great plays to set up third down and 11. Moon faded back to pass looking to set up a screen, but Casey Decker read it perfectly. He intercepted the ball and raced 75-yards for the score to make it 24-7. That was a crushing moment, because it looked like UWRF would get at least three-points but, instead, they gave up 7.
Coming out of the half, the Falcons defense continued to shut down the Gustavus offense. Their own offense began to move the ball, however. After being stopped on their first possession of the half, UWRF took the ball at their own 16 and moved to the Gustavus 16 in just seven-plays. The drive stalled and the visitors went for the 33-yard field goal, but the kick missed just wide left to keep it a 17-point Gusties lead.
The Gustavus offense would be stopped again, giving River Falls the ball at their own 24. This time they would not be denied. Moon led the drive, completing 4 of 8 passes, including a 16-yard completion to Tony Denn that put the ball at the Gustavus 24. Then it was Michael Diggins turn. He carried the ball the final three plays, scoring from 7-yards out to make the score 24-14.
It would be a tough struggle for the next eight minutes, as neither team could figure out their opponent’s offense. Finally, with the six minutes left in the game, the Falcons would make this a three-point game. The River Falls quarterback led an 11-play, 64-yard drive that ended when he found Diggins coming out of the backfield for a 16-yard touchdown with 3:56 left in the game.
That was plenty of time to get the lead if they could get the ball back, and that is what they did, forcing the Gusties to punt after four-plays. This was make or break time for the Gustavus defense, and they delivered a huge playt. The drive started with the Falcons looking like they were going to pull this one out when Moon found Trenton Monson for a 34-yard pass play on the first play of the drive. Two more completions would put the ball at the Gustavus 39 and it was looking a lot hairier for sure. However, two incompletions and completion for four-yards set up a fourth and 6 at the GAC 35. Too far away for a field goal, the Falcons went for it, but Michael Lopez gave no room for a completion, and the Gustavus Adolphus Gusties held on for the 24-21 victory.
The defense was huge on this day, holding River Falls to just 5 of 17 on third down conversions. Jordan Sorenson led the team with 9-tackles and Tyler Jakes added 8.
Next weekend the Gusties welcome Augsburg in their first conference game of 2016. Kickoff is 1 pm.
By Robert Pannier