The Gustavus gunslinger

More news about: Gustavus Adolphus
Mitch Hendricks is throwing it all over the yard and the Golden Gusties are winning.
Photo by Caleb Williams, d3photography.com

With the school’s all-time leading rusher Jeffrey Dubose in the backfield, it’s no wonder why the Gustavus Adolphus football team ran the ball so much last season.

But now that Dubose is gone, quarterback Mitch Hendricks and the passing game has stepped up.

The Gusties’ quarterback has the offense putting up staggering numbers through the air and has led the team to a 5-0 start.

“We’re using the pass a lot more than last year. Last year, we used a lot more of the run game to set up the pass, and this year’s its vice versa,” said Hendricks, who has already thrown for more yards this season than he did all of last year.

“Our wide receivers are doing a great job of getting open, our offensive line is protecting really well and we’re taking shots downfield,” Hendricks said. “We’re trying to get some explosive plays.”

Gustavus head coach Peter Haugen said this year’s team simply has a different makeup than the squad that was run-oriented a year ago.

“We were just shaped a little bit differently,” Haugen said. “I think what we’re really trying to do is play to our strengths.”

Hendricks has passed for 1,967 yards this season after posting 1,938 in 10 games in 2013.

The Gusties’ signal-caller has thrown 24 touchdown passes and has just one interception in 179 attempts.

“I’m making my reads a lot quicker this year. I’m hitting guys on time when they’re open. And the receivers have definitely bailed me out a few times this year on some bad balls,” Hendricks said.

Haugen credited the quarterback’s decision-making for the improved statistics, noting Hendricks has completed nearly 80 percent of his passes.

“Mitch has just been incredibly efficient. He’s made smart throws. He hasn’t turned the ball over a ton,” Haugen said.

Hendricks and the offense really came to life during Gustavus’ Week 4 matchup at MIAC rival Augsburg. Hendricks completed 33 of 39 passes for 504 yards to help the Gusties win 55-31. He threw seven touchdowns in the win to cancel out his lone interception of the season.

His seven touchdowns broke the school record of six set by Bob Southworth in 1998, and his 504 yards broke the previous best program mark of 403 set by Dean Krauss in 1985 as well as his own record of 443 set a week earlier versus Hamline.

Hendricks' 33 completions versus Augsburg also tied a school record.

“I really haven’t played a game like that before. Our coaches even told us they hadn’t been part of an offense that was that efficient,” Hendricks said. “Our defense was getting quick stops, which is huge because we got the ball quite a few times throughout the game. And we were very explosive on offense.”

Gustavus Adolphus followed up that win with a 50-0 shutout over Carleton at home. Hendricks went 24-for-28 with 383 yards and four scoring passes.

In the Gusties’ five wins this season, Hendricks has completed at least four touchdown passes in each game.

“Mitch has just been well protected. That’s No. 1,” Haugen said. “We have some playmakers at receiver and tight end, and even we’re throwing the ball quite a bit to our running backs too. We’ve been able to distribute the ball to several different players.”

With an undefeated record and a spot atop the MIAC standings, Gustavus is gaining confidence and is looking to make a push for the program’s first league championship since 1987.

“I feel like we can beat anybody,” Hendricks said. “Expectations are high this year, and we want to go as far as we can.”

There are a number of challenging games remaining on the Gusties’ schedule though. Those contests include three games against rivals ranked in the Top 25.

“We knew we had to play well early in the season, and now we got to play our best football in the second half,” Hendricks said. “We’ve got a rivalry game this weekend. Then we got St. John’s, Bethel, Concordia, St. Thomas. That’s as tough as it gets in any conference.

“I think if we can take it one game at a time and play our best each week, we can be in those games and we can win those games,” he continued. “That’s what we’re going for. We want to win the conference championship.”

Hendricks said the offense and defense respect one another, which has helped the team find success. And Haugen said his coaching staff has done a tremendous job of preparing the team each week. If things continue to move in a positive direction, Gustavus Adolphus has high hopes for the season.

“It’s really a lot less about who we’re playing each week. Really, we’re so focused on how we’re performing,” Haugen said.

“We’ve got some good momentum,” he added. “And the biggest thing is we’re not interested in writing the final chapter of the book in Week 6.”

Even though he is on pace to set the school’s single season marks in passing yards, completions and touchdowns, Hendricks is not concerned about breaking any records. He just wants to see that number in the win column continue to grow.

“I’m not too worried about stats and that stuff as long as we can win,” Hendricks said. “If the numbers need to stay that high to win, then I hope they stay. If not, we just want to find a way to win.”

Linfield puts away Pac Lutheran

Linfield scored 17 unanswered points to pull away from rival Pacific Lutheran in a battle of nationally ranked Northwest Conference rivals. Sam Riddle threw four touchdown passes and rushed for another score to help the Wildcats win their NWC opener, 41-14.

Riddle completed 80 percent of his passes, finishing 17-of-21 for 239 yards. He completed three touchdown passes to three different receivers in the first half before contributing to two more scores in the second half.

“Sam has got a ton of ability,” Linfield head coach Joe Smith told the Tacoma News Tribune. “His athletic ability is high. His arm strength is great. But what we are liking is that he is mature. The sky is the limit.”

The Linfield defense intercepted Dalton Ritchey three times and recovered a fumble. The Lutes gained just 81 yards of offense in the second half.

The Wildcats have now won 33 straight Northwest Conference games and have claimed their last 15 meetings over the Lutes, including the postseason.


The rest of the West

For the second time in as many weeks Brandon Marquardt returned a kickoff for a touchdown, which helped Bethel defeat Concordia-Moorhead, 27-17, in a battle of ranked MIAC teams. The Royals handed the Cobbers their first loss of the season and stayed tied atop the conference standings. … St. Scholastica scored the final 14 points to take its first-place showdown with Northwestern (Minn.). Preston Robinson's second touchdown of the game came with 2:12 to play and kept the Saints unbeaten on the season. CSS and Greenville (a 63-44 winner over MacMurray) lead the UMAC with 4-0 league records. … Buena Vista scored 28 second quarter points to overcome an early 14-point deficit and handed Simpson its first loss of the year, 38-31. Bobby Brown threw five touchdown passes and finished with 392 yards in the Beavers' victory. … Defending SCIAC champion Redlands secured its first win of the year, opening conference play with a 47-7 win at Pomona-Pitzer. … UW-Oshkosh played its first Division III opponent when the team hosted UW-Stout. The Titans picked up their first win, 32-7, behind a strong defensive effort. … After an unexpected week off, Pacific earned its first win of the year. Bobby Ladiges and Kamana Pimental combined to rush for 260 yards and three scores to lead the Boxers past Whitworth, 29-15. … UW-Whitewater converted on 11-of-14 third downs and possessed the ball for 42:11 in a 38-7 win over UW-La Crosse. … Sam Sura scored three of St. John's seven first-half touchdowns in a 49-28 win over Hamline. … Jeremiah McKibbin rushed for 137 yards and three touchdowns as Chapman topped Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, 33-23. … One week after upsetting North Central (Ill.), UW-Stevens Point needed a fourth quarter touchdown to pull out a 17-14 win at UW-River Falls. …St. Thomas racked up 39 first downs in a 69-7 win at St. Olaf. …Bryce Corrigan threw five touchdown passes as UW-Platteville rolled to a 49-0 victory at UW-Eau Claire.

Number of the week

4 — as in the number of wins Luther has this season. Following a 28-14 win over Dubuque, the Norse are 4-0 on the season after winning just two games in the last two years combined. It is Luther's best start since 1987. J.J. Sirios picked up 224 of the team’s 401 rushing yards and accounted for three touchdowns to help Luther snap a three-game losing streak versus the Spartans.

Rank ’em       

A total of 10 teams in the West Region are ranked in the Top 25, including a trio of top-10 programs.

UW-Whitewater received all 25 votes and remained ranked No. 1 nationally. Linfield will spend another week as the No. 5 team.

Wartburg moved up one and is now ranked No. 7.

Bethel, UW-Stevens Point and UW-Platteville also rose one spot each to Nos. 11, 16 and 17, respectively.

Pacific Lutheran falls seven spots to No. 21 after losing to rival Linfield.

MIAC rivals Concordia-Moorhead, St. John’s and St. Thomas all moved down one spot to round out the poll at Nos. 23, 24 and 25, respectively.

Chapman (40), Willamette (25) and Gustavus Adolphus (11) received votes this week.

Looking ahead

There are two key IIAC matchups this weekend. Wartburg travels to Coe and Buena Vista heads to Luther. All four teams are 1-0 in league play. Wartburg and Coe have competed for the top conference spots in recent seasons. Buena Vista and Luther are trying to keep their early-season momentum going.

George Fox is traveling to Linfield. It is the Bruins first trip to McMinnville to face their former rival since restarting their football program.

Cal Lutheran will play at Redlands. Both teams enter the Smudge Pot trophy game with identical 1-2 overall records and 1-0 SCIAC marks.

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Josh Smith photo

Josh Smith has covered Division III sports for more than five years. He writes for multiple publications, including D3football.com beginning in 2012. He has won multiple awards for reporting and photography and lives in southern Wisconsin near UW-Whitewater, where he graduated with a degree in print journalism.

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