Early Surge Propels Pipers Past Storm, 54-38
The Hamline University Pipers returned to the field for the first time in nearly 650 days, and made the most of their opportunity, jumping out to a 40-0 lead before hanging on for the 54-38 victory. They Pipers got a big day out of quarterback Connor Leavens, who threw for 229 yards and four touchdowns. The win was the first opening game victory for the Pipers since Hamline defeated Crown to open the 2017 season.
The Pipers took the opening kickoff and took a 7-0 lead just 2:31 into the contest. Leavens lead the way, completing all four pass attempts, including a 14-yard strike to Triston Thomas that gave his team a 7-0 lead.
The Pipers defense came up big on each of their first two opportunities, forcing the Storm to punt on their first possession, and creating a huge turnover on the second. Jared Gillmore went back to pass, but Caleb Lueders intercepted the throw, returning it 55 yards to the Crown 5-yard line. Three plays later, Leavens found Thomas for the second time in the contest, this time for a 3-yard touchdown that put Hamline up by 14.
Crown was forced to punt on their next possession as well, giving Leavens the ball at his own 45-yard line. On the first play of the second quarter, the Pipers quarterback was able to thread the needle, somehow finding Ryan Lauterbach over the middle. Lauterbach pulled in the reception, then raced the remaining distance for a 55-yard touchdown.
Hamline continued to roll behind their defense, which forced a turnover on downs on the next possession for Crown. That gave the Pipers the ball at the Storm 34. After a 3-yard run by Terrell Jones to open the drive, Leavens found Leuders for 22 yards, moving the ball to the nine. A pass interference call put the ball at the 2-yard line, where Jones scored on the next play to put the Pipers up by 27.
This contest continued to get ugly early, as Hamline scored on each of their next two possessions. After a punt gave Hamline the ball at their own 47, they quickly moved down the field on the ground. Alec Ralph carried the ball twice, including for a 16-yard gain. Jones’ 26-yard carry moved the ball to the 1-yard line, where Leavens scored on a quarterback keeper to give his team a 34-0 lead.
After another Crown turnover on downs, Leavens went up top and found Thomas for a 54 yard strike down to the Crown 16. Two plays later he hit Charlie Wilson for 9-yard TD and this game looked like it was over.
However, Crown showed a lot of heart, storming back into this contest. The Storm got on the board thanks to a six play, 80-yard drive led by Gillmore who completed all five passes. That included a 32-yard strike to Avory Caruthers that moved the ball to midfield. Gillmore then hit Cole Mistretta for 15 yards and followed with a 14-yard pass completion to George Green. That put the ball at the 9-yard line, where the Crown quarterback hit Mistretta for a touchdown. The two-point conversion was good making the score 40-8.
The Storm added one more score just before halftime. After a Leavens pass was intercepted by Isaac Herron, Gillmore went to work quickly. Starting from the Hamline 32, he hit Mistretta for an 11-yard pass down to the Pipers 25. On the next play, the Storm quarterback went for the end zone to Maddox Lawien for a 25-yard touchdown pass to make it a 40-14 contest.
While the first half produced a lot of points, the third quarter was a defensive struggle. Both teams had some success moving the ball on their first possession, but then the defenses took over, creating four straight four and out possessions.
Finally, Crown was able to get a little momentum going, moving 84 yards in seven plays to cut their deficit to 18. This drive was set up by a gutsy call by head coach Anthony Franz, who opted to go for it on fourth and four at his own 22. Gillmore rewarded his coach with an 8-yard completion for a first down. Three plays later, Gillmore found Mistretta for a 70-yard touchdown pass, the longest play of the day.
The Pipers responded right away, moving 58 yards in nine plays to extend their lead to 25. Jones led the way, carrying the ball on each of the first four plays for a total of 22 yards. On the ninth play of the drive, Leavens hit Matt Miller for a 15-yard touchdown, the fourth of the day by the Pipers quarterback.
Back the other way the Storm went. Gillmore quickly moved his team down the field, moving 76 yards in seven plays before finding Josh Wallace for a 31-yard touchdown.
It was clear that Crown was not going away, but the Pipers were able to burn off nearly 5 minutes of clock, moving 56 yards before adding their eighth touchdown of the day. This came on a 6-yard touchdown run by Nikolas Rocafort. Rocafort and Ralph combined to carry the ball seven times on the drive.
Crown had one more opportunity to score thanks to a 62-yard kickoff return that put the ball at the Hamline 18. Gillmore connected with Ryan Swecker for a 2-yard score, the fifth touchdown pass of the day for the Crown quarterback. That made it 54-38, but the clock ran out to give Hamline the victory.
This was a wild affair that saw the two teams combine to produce over 900 yards of total offense. Leavens threw four 229 yards, completing 24 of 31 passes. His four touchdown tosses was a single game-high. Thomas was his top target, making 13 catches for 137 yards and two scores. The ground game was exceptional for the Pipers, rushing for 193 total yards. Jones had 10 carries for 73 yards and a score and Rocafort added 11 carries for 70 yards and TD.
The Hamline defense was led by Adrian Cracolici, Sam Fritz, and Carson Reinard, who each had seven tackles. The Pipers did not record a sack and had one turnover in the contest.
Crown got a spectacular performance out of their quarterback, as Gillmore completed 31 of 61 passes for 456 yards and five touchdowns. Mistretta had 14 catches for 254 yards and two TDs. The Storm defense was led by Ugo Egwim with 10 tackles. Noe Urrea had the only sack of the day.
The Hamline University Pipers (1-0) will travel to take on Minnesota-Morris on September 18. The team is off this Saturday.
by Robert Pannier