This Saturday the two most high-powered offenses in the Minnesota Athletic Conference (MIAC) will square off in each team’s final regular season game. The game will pit the Gustavus Adolphus Gusties and their incredible passing attack against the well-balanced attack of the St. Thomas Tommies. The Tommies are averaging 501.1 yards per game following last week’s shellacking of Carleton. Gustavus Adolphus is at 488.0.
This is a game that has a lot more meaning for the Tommies. At 7-2, they are ranked 22nd in the latest D3Football poll, and still have a good chance of making the Division-III playoffs should they beat the Gusties. While GAC is not playing for such high stakes, they do have two incentives that are making this an important contest for them. A win would move the team to 7-3, continuing the team’s progress under Coach Peter Haugen. Secondly, it would give them a chance to make a statement of how good this team is against one of the better teams in the country.
St. Thomas has caught fire since junior John Gould took over as the quarterback. They have scored 118 points in the last two games, and Gould has been especially impressive. He is 27-37 in the last two games for 474 yards and 7 touchdowns. Overall for the season Gould has an impressive 68.6% completion percentage, with 12 TDs and 4 interceptions.
On the ground is where the Tommies are especially brutal. Their three headed beast of Jack Kaiser, Nick Waldvogel and Brenton Braddock has combined for 1451 yards in nine games with 21 touchdowns. Combined they average better than 170 yards per game and 2.3 touchdowns, making them a trio that is difficult to corral.
On the receiving end the Tommies spread the ball out well, with Charlie Dowdle being a particularly favorite target of Gould’s. The junior leads the team with 36 catches for 526 yards and 9 TDs. He has the speed to get open on deep balls and is especially lethal in the red zone.
The Tommies are not only an offensive juggernaut. They have an outstanding defense that is ranked second in the MIAC in yards allowed per game. They are especially stingy against the run and lead the conference in fumble recoveries. Their defense is led by outstanding linebacker Ruttger Heffelfinger, who leads the team with 63 tackles and also has a fumble recovery. This is very active linebacker corps, and safety Kyle Coyne is a fearless hitter who is a straight up ball-hawk.
The Gusties are led by their quarterback, Air Marshall Mitch Hendricks, and his group of receiving aces, led by twin brothers Matt and Gabriel Boyce. Hendricks is third in all of Division-III football in passing yards, and leads the country in touchdown throws with 34. He has struggled a bit recently as the competition has stiffened late in the season, throwing nine interceptions in the last three games, but when he is on he is unbelievably good.
Hendricks two favorite targets are Matt and Gabe Boyce. Both receivers are staging a war on the Gusties record book, and are among the leaders in the country in several different receiving categories. Matt is second in the country in touchdown receptions with 16 (a school record) and he is eighth in total yards receiving. He is very quick to get open, and will fight for the ball with the best of them. Gabe is fifth in the nation in total receptions with 82 (a school record), and he is 20th in total receiving yards. The two are a handful for any defense, and should give the Tommies secondary all they can handle.
As the season has progressed junior Luke Martinez has become healthy, and it has shown on the field. Martinez has played in just six games, but has 528 yards rushing, and last week he had 174 yards on just 26 carries. Martinez looks to be getting stronger each week, and adds another weapon to this team’s arsenal.
The Gusties defense is a rather small one at most positions, but they are quick and play very smart. Self-described Junkyard dog Zach Martinez is the team’s leading tackler with 72, and Anthony Boyce, Tyler Jakes and Kyle Krzmarzick make one of the most dynamic linebacker groups in the conference. The Gusties lead the conference in sacks and know how to disrupt most quarterback’s rhythm.
This should be an exciting contest of two of the most dynamic offenses in Division-III football pitted against defense’s that are underrated for sure. If the Tommies are able to move the ball effectively on the ground, gaining 200-plus yards on the day, that will keep Hendricks off of the field and make winners of St. Thomas. For Gustavus, they must get an error-free day out of Hendricks. If he can hit his receivers without giving St. Thomas extra possessions the upset is quite likely.
By Robert Pannier