By Drew Lyon
Special to The Free Press
ST PETER —
A quick glance at the stats from Gustavus Adolphus’ football game Saturday tells it all.
The Gusties’ offense was on the field for a mere 19 minutes, the defense forced no turnovers and special teams allowed a fake punt and missed two field goals. Even a first and goal from the 1-yard line didn’t translate into much-needed points.
The result was a 16-0 shutout at the hands of Valley State, spoiling the Gusties’ homecoming game at Hollingsworth Stadium.
“Tough day for us, especially offensively,” Gustavus coach Peter Haugen said. “We just didn’t execute like we were hoping for.”
Valley State, coming off a 61-point performance last week, dominated the Gusties in the first half in nearly every statistical category except the one that mattered the most: the score.
The game’s opening drive stalled at the Gustavus 18-yard line, and Valley State settled for a 31-yard field goal by Thomas Cortez.
In the second quarter, Vikings quarterback Tommy Zinke found Colby Lum open in the back of the end zone, but Gustavus defensive backs Xavier Fust and Zach Dilger closed in and combined to break up the potential touchdown. Valley State settled for a 32-yard Zinke field goal, and after 17 minutes of play, the Gusties had been outgained 140 yards to 18 and had only one first down, yet only trailed by six points.
Late in the second half, the Vikings again failed to convert in the red zone, as their drive ended at the Gustavus 21-yard line with zero points after Zinke’s fourth-down pass to Chad Hjelmstad fell incomplete. Gustavus quarterback Muresuk Mena completed two passes to bring the ball near midfield in the half’s final minute, but a false start penalty and sack halted the drive to put the halftime score at 6-0.
“I thought to only be down six points at half said a lot of about our defense,” Haugen said. “We knew they had a strong kicker, but it was important to force them to kick field goals instead of touchdowns. I really liked what I saw today defensively; they got off the field and gave the offense a shot. We just couldn’t get into a rhythm offensively.”
On their second drive of second half, the Gusties used a combination of runs by running back Phillip Butler and Mena to reach inside the Vikings’ 25-yard line for the first time in the game.
Kicker Tom Huepenbecker eventually lined up for a 41-yard field goal try, but Matt Craft blocked the kick. Huepenbecker caught the deflection and tried to run for the first down but was tackled short of the 18-yard line.
“It would’ve been nice to have that one,” Haugen said, “just to get some momentum on offense going.”
Cortez added his third field goal early in the fourth quarter. Gustavus drove the ball down into Vikings’ territory, but a personal foul led to Huepenbecker’s 45-yard field goal attempt, which fell a few yards short of the crossbar. On their next possession, displaying a sense of urgency, the Gusties declined to punt on fourth and 11 from their own 25-yard line. The gambled failed, and five plays later, Taylor Cino scampered 17 yards for the game’s first and only touchdown to put Valley State ahead 16-0.
With 5:11 remaining, and still only trailing by two possessions, Gustavus, highlighted by Mena’s 18-yard run and 34-yard pass to Michael Hintze, had first-and-goal at the 1-yard line.
In a microcosm of the Gusties’ offensive output Saturday, the subsequent plays were: a penalty, sack and an interception.
“It’s tough knowing we’re not playing to the best of our abilities,” said Mena, who threw for 128 yards and ran for 61 yards. “The defense played really well; they were on the field for a very long time and held their own. We just didn’t our job on offense.”
Gustavus (2-4) resumes its MIAC conference schedule Saturday at Bethel.