By Jim Rueda
Free Press Sports Editor
ST PETER —
For much of Saturday’s Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference football game at Hollingsworth Field, the matchup featured the big-strike offense of St. Olaf against the methodical, sustained drives of Gustavus Adolphus.
In the end, however, it was the stellar running of Oles halfback Leon Clark that made the difference. Clark cut loose for 134 second-half yards and scored the game-winning touchdown with 29 seconds left to lift his team to a 19-14 victory.
“We just decided to go back and do something we do very well — run the football,” Clark said. “We got away from that a little bit in the first half but we came back to it in the second.”
St. Olaf coach Jerry Olszewski, a former assistant coach at Minnesota State, agreed: “Last year we came in here and had a field day running to the outside. Today they closed that off on us.
“In the second half we just committed to running the ball between the tackles and had some success. Our offensive line did the job opening up holes for Leon and he did the rest.”
The game’s first score was set up by Michael Johnson who blocked a recovered a punt by the Gusties’ Tucker Vogt at the Gustavus 19-yard line. Seven plays later, quarterback Dan Dobson threw a 5-yard strike to Antonio Jennings and Jason Obarski’s PAT kick made it 7-0 with 4:49 to play in the opening quarter.
Gustavus came right back, driving 80 yards on 15 plays. On second-and-goal from the St. Olaf 20, the Gusties’ Logan Becker dropped back and fund Darin Wagner near the right side line for a touchdown pass. Tom Hupenbecker’s PAT kick tied the game at 7.
The only other score of the first half came with 1:35 to play when Obarski booted a 21-yard field goal. Clark began to assert himself in the third quarter, keying a six-minute drive that was set up by Brian Albrecht’s fumble recovery on Gustavus 37.
Ten plays later, the Oles were faced with a fourth-and-goal at the 1 and opted to kick another field goal for a 13-7 lead.
“We thought about going for it and making them drive the length of the field if they didn’t make it, but I decided we should put some points on the board,” Olszewski said. “I thought it was time to put the game in the hands of our defense and make them step up.”
Gustavus countered with their best drive of the game, moving 73 yards on six plays. The drive ended with a 14-yard scoring pass from Becker to Muresuk Mena and a Hupenbecker PAT for a 14-13 Gustavus lead.
Clark again took over on the ensuing drive, rushing five times for 32 yards. He plowed in from the 2 with 29 seconds left and the Oles held on for the win.
“Our passing game was up and down so we relied on the run in the second half,” said Dobson, a former Mankato West standout. “Leon was doing a nice job inside so we stayed with it.”
Gustavus receiver Elliot Herdina was pleased with his team’s play, if not the outcome.
“We moved the ball pretty well today but our red zone proficiency is lacking,” he said. “It’s been a problem for us all year and we have to keep working on it.
“But (junior quarterback Logan) Becker is getting better every game. I can’t wait to see what he’s doing by the end of the season.”
Becker finished 19 for 31 for 198 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Dobson was 14 for 24 for 165 yards with one TD pass and one interception.
Clark was the game’s top rusher with 27 carris for 156 yards and a score. Becker led Gustavus on the ground with 20 carries for 110 yards.
The win improves St. Olaf to 3-1 overall and 1-1 in the MIAC. Gustavus drops to 1-2 and 0-1.