Indianola, Iowa – The Gustavus Adolphus football team kicked off its 2012 season with a 35-26 win over Simpson College on Saturday afternoon at Bill Buxton Stadium. Gustavus was able to capitalize on Simpson's mistakes throughout the day, scoring two defensive touchdowns and forcing a total of five turnovers. Gustavus wins its first season-opener since 2008 and is now 1-0 for the first time in Head Coach Peter Haugen's tenure. Simpson suffers its first loss of the year and is now 1-1.
"It feels great," said Peter Hagen following the game. "Winning is very difficult and very special, and I'm proud of the way our guys came out and played this afternoon. We're feeling pretty good are going to enjoy the moment for right now."
With Simpson leading 17-14 at the start of the second half, the momentum began to swing towards the Gustavus sideline following a booming 62-yard punt by Jordan Rudenick (Jr., Nicollet, Minn.) that was downed on the seven-yard-line. Three plays later on third-and-15 from the three-yard-line, defensive lineman Nolan Wester (Jr., Kettle River, Minn.) sacked quarterback Taylor Nelson in the endzone, forcing a fumble that was covered up by fellow defensive lineman Donte Green (Jr., Minneapolis, Minn.) for a touchdown. Following the extra point, Gustavus led 21-17 just five minutes into the quarter.
The Gustie defense came up big again on Simpson's following drive when cornerback Torey Asao (Jr., Chaska, Minn.) picked off a tipped pass and returned it 55 yards for a touchdown, extending Gustavus' lead to 28-17.
After the two teams traded possessions, Gustavus came up with its third turnover of the third quarter when defensive end Andrew Lonneman (So., Adrian, Minn.) sacked Nelson, forced him to fumble, and recovered the ball on the 15-yard line. The Gustavus offensive converted the turnover to points on the very next play when quarterback Muresuk Mena (Sr., Inver Grove Heights, Minn.) found tight end Rudenick on 15-yard catch-and-run touchdown.
In the third quarter alone, Gustavus scored 21 unanswered points and forced three turnovers, leading by the score of 35-17 entering the final quarter.
Haugen was enthused by the play of the defense in the second half, stating, "If you go through a season and your defense gets you one touchdown, that's pretty special. Today we got two, so hats off to those guys. Not only did the defense find a way to score, but it also put our offense in good position throughout the day."
Rudenick's touchdown capped Gustavus' scoring for the afternoon. It would take Simpson until the 2:38 mark of the fourth quarter to get back on the scoreboard. Logan Klein hit a 30-yard field goal to make the score 35-20, and Nelson found wide receiver Taylor Rogers with a 15-yard touchdown to bring the score to a final at 35-26.
The Simpson offense had a hard time getting back into rhythm in the second half – a credit to a relentless pass rush, tight coverage in the secondary, and play of the Gustavus punt team. The Gustie defense registered six sacks and intercepted two passes, while Jordan Rudenick stole the show in his first game as the full-time punter. Rudenick punted six times for 290 yards for an average of 48.3 yards per punt. He downed all five punts inside the 20-yard line, three of which were downed inside the five-yard-line. Even when called upon to fill in for Rudenick at punter, Tom Huepenbecker (Sr. Middleton, Wis.) pinned a 34-yard punt inside the 15-yard line. Huepenbecker also finished 5-for-5 on extra point tries.
"Jordan did and unbelievable job today. You can't underestimate how important of a role that will play in a game," said Haugen on the play of his special teams. "Today it made Simpson play with a long field for much of the game, and that was a contributing factor to this win."
The game began with Simpson taking a 3-0 lead after Klein knocked in a 29-yard field goal that capped a six-play, 30-yard drive
After a punt and a blocked field goal attempt, Gustavus scored its first points of the 2012 season with 1:02 remaining in the first quarter. Muresuk Mena, who seemed to be dead in the water on fourth-and-two when his key target was covered, made a play with his feet, seeing daylight downfield and taking the ball in for a 35-yard touchdown run that gave Gustavus a 7-3 advantage. Mena would tally two runs over thirty yards in the game, gaining a total of 73 yards on 13 carries for an average of 5.6 yards per rush.
Simpson's offense began to pick up some steam after the Mena score, answering on the ensuing drive with a 63-yard touchdown pass from Nelson to Rogers, bringing the score to 17-7. Rogers was Nelson's top target in the game, making a game-high eight catches for 187 yards with two touchdowns.
Not to be outdone by Simpson's big play, the Gusties responded right back on their next drive with a touchdown, cutting the lead to 17-14. On third-and-11 from the Gustavus 36-yard line, Mena opted to throw a screen pass to running back Jeffrey Dubose (Jr., St. Paul, Minn.). After catching the screen and turning up field, an opening appeared down field following two key blocks by offensive lineman Lyle Opdahl (Sr., Norwood Young America, Minn.) and David Gschneidner (Jr., Edina, Minn.). Dubose hit the crease and scampered 64 yards down the sideline, stiff-arming a Simpson defender at the five-yard-line on his way into the endzone.
Dubose benefited from the solid play of Gustavus' offensive line throughout the afternoon, running for 119 yards on 26 carries for an average of 4.6 yards per run
"It was a big day for Jeffrey and a great showing by our offensive line. Today was a preview as to what that group is capable of and it will be fun to seen how the hogs progress as the season continues."
The final count saw Gustavus gain a total of 366 yards (211 rush, 155 pass). The Gusties had no turnovers and were 1-of-2 in the red-zone. Simpson racked up a total of 466 yards, 427 of which were through the air.
Muresuk Mena played mistake free football in his first start under center, finishing 8-for-14 for 155 yards and two touchdowns through the air. His counterpart Taylor Nelson was 28-for-54 for 427 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions.
On how earning his first win as a collegiate quarterback feels, Mena said, "It feels great. I was a little nervous today and wish I would have made a few better reads, but my teammates picked me up all game long. From the offensive to defense to special teams, I'm proud of the way everyone stepped up today."
"Everything happens so fast in a game. I think Muresuk just got into rhythm early and never looked back," commented Haugen on the play of his senior quarterback. "We knew going in that he is a respected leader who has the ability to make plays with his feet. As up and down as our offense was at times today, he and a few others were able to step up and make plays when it mattered."
Gustavus was led defensively by safety Jake Forcier (So., Watkins, Minn.), who had a team-high seven tackles (all solo) and one interception. Andrew Lonneman finished with a game-high three sacks and three tackles for loss.
As Gustavus heads into the opening game of the MIAC season next weekend, Mena expects the Gusties to continue to play with confidence. "We need to continue to work hard and rely on each other. It was evident today, the offense relied on the defense, and the defense relied on us. If we continue to do that, it's going to be a fun season.
The Gustavus football team will open its home schedule on Saturday, Sept. 15 against Augsburg College at 1:00 p.m.
- Jeffrey Dubose ran for over 100 yards for the fourth time in his career. He is also the last Gustavus running back to go for over 100 yards, running for 148 yards against Hamline last season.
- Jordan Rudenick is the first Gustavus punter in the last 25 years to down five punts inside the 20-yard line.
- Donte Green's fumble recovery touchdown is the first since Ethan Armstrong returned a fumble 21 yards for a touchdown against Hamline in 2008.
- Torey Asao's interception return touchdown is the first since Brad Kruckeberg took a pick back 70 yards against Hamline in 2010.
- Andrew Lonneman's three sacks today are the most since 2009 when Christian Vanek recorded three against St. Olaf.
- The Gustavus football team's six sacks are the most since 2007 when the defense got to the Carleton quarterback a total of seven times.
- It was the first time since 2007 that a Gustavus defense scored two touchdowns in a game. Jared Seiling and Joe Welch both returned interceptions back for touchdowns against Carleton.