Football stumbles in homecoming defeat

For the first two weeks of the season, St. Olaf football was looking like a possible dark horse contender. Following a convincing victory at Grinnell in which the offense exploded for 69 points, the Oles took Luther to double overtime in their first game on Manitou Field’s new artificial turf. While the eventual outcome of that contest was still a heartbreaking 46-40 loss, the team showed dramatic improvement over last year, when Luther won handily by three scores. The fierce passing attack was a force to be reckoned with; Jack Goldstein ’18 threw for eight touchdowns, four of which were hauled in by breakout receiver Jorgen Salveson ’18. St. Olaf seemed to have a brand new contender to go along with its new turf and optimism was running high.

Fast forward two weeks, however, and that enthusiasm has significantly decreased. Following a humbling 44-0 beatdown in their first conference game against St. John’s, the Oles returned to Manitou Field on Saturday, Sept. 24 to reclaim their competitive ways in the highly anticipated homecoming matchup against Bethel, a team that had yet to gain a single victory.

It should have been a close game. The Oles possess the raw talent capable of hanging tough against one of the conference’s weaker opponents. Unfortunately, that latent potential remained untapped as St. Olaf was soundly outmatched by Bethel, 44-7.

Beginning the game with possession, things started off promisingly for the Oles as Goldstein fired two laser passes in a row to Troy Peterson ’18 and Salveson for 9 and 10 yards, respectively, netting St. Olaf a quick first down and immediate momentum. Sadly, it was to be the team’s only first down in a half that rapidly got out of hand.

Following the first change of possession, Bethel’s offense started and quite simply didn’t stop, rushing for three touchdowns and throwing for one. Tommy Fleetham ’19 nabbed an interception with just under two and a half minutes remaining in the first quarter, reenergizing the Oles, but this momentum was halted two plays later when Goldstein threw an interception of his own and Bethel found the end zone three plays later. By halftime, the Royals led 27-0 and had replaced most of their starters with the second string.

After taking a brutal sack at the start of the second quarter, Goldstein was replaced by Ricardo Johnson III ’18 who quietly put together a solid performance in Goldstein’s absence, throwing for 178 yards and zero interceptions. He even led the Oles to a touchdown of their own late in the game, though it occurred in garbage time after victory was well out of reach.

Curiously enough, the statistics for both teams ended up being fairly comparable. Overall, St. Olaf actually had more total passing yards (204) than the Royals (152), and the time of possession was almost identical, with the Oles controlling the ball for 29:27 compared to Bethel’s 30:33. Both teams even committed the same number of penalties throughout the contest (9 for each side), with Bethel’s 133 penalty yards topping St. Olaf’s total of 121.

The outlier statistic and clear difference maker in the game was the rushing attack. Bethel posted 379 total yards on the ground, while St. Olaf actually ran for negative four yards during the game’s entirety.

The Oles’ inability to establish the run game made them one-dimensional and easy to predict early on, which crippled the offense. The defense’s inability to prevent Bethel’s running backs from lighting up Manitou Field clearly didn’t help matters. The stats are transparent; the Oles failed with the running game on both sides of the ball and that mistake cost them a win.

Next up, St. Olaf gets a much needed week of rest before facing off against Hamline, an undefeated conference heavyweight. Things aren’t getting easier from here on out – the Oles must reclaim some semblance of fight if they hope to salvage a season that looked promising not too long ago.