Chronicling a comeback

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UW-Stout survives on a blocked extra point. (Photo by Tim Kruse for UW-Stout athletics)
Gustavus Adolphus' extra-point attempt in overtime glances off of Scott Gustafson's face mask, capping UW-Stout's comeback. But how this game got there is the story, and that story is told below.
Photo by Tim Kruse for UW-Stout athletics

By Joe Sager

On Saturday, UW-Stout learned an important lesson – never give up.

Down 17-0 late in the third quarter at Gustavus Adolphus, the Blue Devils rallied to score the next 17 points to send the game into overtime. They came away with a dramatic 24-23 win after Scott Gustafson blocked a PAT.

Following is a look at how the comeback unfolded for Stout, featuring head coach Clayt Birmingham, sophomore linebacker Haydon Miller, freshman wide receiver Levy Hamer, junior defensive lineman Aaron Wisecup and Gustafson, a freshman defensive lineman.

The Golden Gusties seemed to grab control of the game early in the third quarter when they scored on their first drive of the second half to go up 17-0.

David Peal dives into the end zone for a third-quarter touchdown to give Gustavus Adolphus a 17-0 lead. (Gustavus Adolphus athletics photo by Jake Noel)
David Peal's touchdown gave Gustavus Adolphus a three-score lead early in the third quarter. 
Gustavus Adolphus athletics photo by Jake Noel

Haydon Miller mug shot Haydon Miller: “It was tough seeing that 17-0 on the board, definitely. Anytime you see that, it’s like, ‘Dang, how did we end up here?’ We stuck in there and believed we could win.”

Miller provided a spark late in the frame when he raced out into coverage, turned around and picked off Michael Veldman’s pass at the Gustavus 19.

A screen grab of Haydon Miller's interception.
Haydon Miller intercepts Gustavus Adolphus quarterback Michael Veldman at the 19-yard line, just left of the center of this frame.
From the Gustavus Adolphus video stream

Miller: “That was super nice. Earlier in the game I had dropped a critical one. I was pretty bummed at myself and I could see my teammates were a little down. I was hoping for another chance and was very thankful it came to me. I thought it was a run at first. As soon as I saw it was a pass, I turned around and saw the receiver wide open. I started running to him. I heard my teammates yell, ‘PASS!’ and, luckily, I was able to turn my head around and make a play on the ball.”

Aaron Wisecup mug shot Aaron Wisecup: “We went into that drive knowing they were pinned deep. We knew that we either needed to get a turnover or get a three-and-out and get good field position. When he came up with that pick, I think our offense got a lot of confidence. They could see the defense wasn’t giving up. We didn’t score a touchdown, but a field goal is points on the board. That was big.”

Faced with a fourth-and-3 at the Gustavus 12, Stout nearly went for it. However, the Blue Devils, who hadn’t scored all season to that point, decided to take Drew Pearson’s 30-yard field goal with 1:54 left in the third.

Clayt Birmingham mug shot Clayt Birmingham: “We were contemplating whether to go into the fourth with three points or try to get a first down. Our offense was struggling up until then. We just wanted to get points on board and get some momentum. I think that was a big swing there.”

Both teams traded punts to close the third quarter. Early in the fourth, Stout’s defense stopped the Gusties at their own 31. A 14-yard punt left the Blue Devils with favorable field position.

Levy Hamer mug shot Levy Hamer: “I remember (offensive line) coach (Derek) Branch just telling everyone to believe. When they made that short punt, that basically just told us that we should believe, and we believed we had it. We just did that and capitalized.”

Stout needed four plays to get in the end zone when freshman quarterback Sean Borgerding found freshman Tyler Seymour for a 15-yard touchdown. Suddenly, it was a 17-10 game with 12:55 to go.

Scott Gustafson mug shot Scott Gustafson: “We are only a score away at that point. The possibility of a comeback was within our reach. I think we felt that and just kind of rode that momentum all the way through.”

Miller: “When we saw it was 17-10, that’s only a touchdown. We knew it’s our game to win. We were not coming out of there unless it’s with a win. That opportunity gave us a chance to show who we are as a defense – to be able to fly around and play football without trying to overthink.”

It paid off. Both teams traded punts before the Blue Devils’ defense came up big again. Pinned at its own 4, Gustavus got to the Stout 38 with 3:05 to go. After a timeout, senior safety Levi Wolf picked off Veldman at the 32. Stout took over at its own 36 with 2:55 remaining.

Hamer: “When he got the interception, that was the happiest moment of the year. I was just so happy. We were on the bench talking about what we were going to do on the next drive. Then, we got the interception. We just took it from there.”

The Blue Devils proceeded to march 64 yards on 17 plays to tie the game. Along the way, they converted on not one – but two – fourth downs. Borgerding found Hamer for those conversions.

Hamer: “I was thinking, ‘Just catch the ball’ and nothing else. I just wanted to make a play, that’s it. I’ve been in that situation before in high school. I just showed up for the moment, I guess.”

Wisecup: “I don’t think I watched either of those fourth-down plays. I told whoever is next to me to tell me what happened. I want to watch and I have trust in them, but I let them be and do what they do. Levy had a very nice drive. He is another one of our young guys that stepped up. Putting trust in those young guys can be nerve-racking, but it’s something we need to get behind.”

Birmingham: “When you get to fourth down, it’s cross-every-finger-you-got time. There’s nothing you can do as a coach. You just sit back and, hopefully, they do the right things. Levy Hamer and Sean Borgerding did just that. There were times I looked out there and all of our specialists were freshmen. To have young guys step up in that situation, you like to think you have some good things coming. They made some tough catches and kept the drive alive.”

Borgerding found – who else – Hamer for a 4-yard TD pass with eight seconds left in regulation to cap the drive.

Birmingham: “We ran the same exact play the play before and we saw (Hamer) was open. We couldn’t believe (Borgerding) didn’t throw it to him the first time. We yelled at him and he stepped back and came through with a nice throw and Levy made a great catch.”

Levy Hamer celebrates in the Gustavus Adolphus end zone with his arms extended. (Photo by Tim Kruse for UW-Stout athletics)
After being missed on the previous play, Levy Hamer catches a touchdown pass with eight seconds remaining to leave UW-Stout down one point.
Photo by Tim Kruse for UW-Stout athletics

Miller: “There were definitely times where it was nerve-wracking to sit there and watch. I just tried to keep my mind right and have confidence and trust in the offense to convert and they did exactly that. I don’t want to say it was disbelief because I truly believed it was our game to win. At that moment, it was like – holy crap, we are tied right now! I just kept going back to that moment when it was 17-0 and it was taking all of our might just to play our brand of football. As soon as we started seeing points going on the board, we just played. We forgot about the score and just played.”

Stout nearly attempted to go for two to wrap up the victory. Instead, the squad settled for Pearson’s PAT and headed to overtime.

Birmingham: “The cardinal rule tells you that, when you’re on the road and going against a tough team and score late, you go for two and get out of there. It was on the headsets a lot with our offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator. It was more our offensive coordinator coming in my ear saying, ‘We can score again and let’s put it in OT!’ It was a pretty big decision whether to go for two or send it to OT. I am glad we made that right decision.”

Stout got the first possession in overtime. It took the team five plays to score as senior running back Keyshawn Carpenter ran in from the 1. Pearson added the PAT kick for the 24-17 lead.

Miller: “Right away, when I knew our offense got the ball, I was just yelling, ‘Let’s go! Let’s go!’ It was nice to see them march right on in. They did it with basically no struggle and it was great.”

Gustavus was even more efficient. It scored on its first play when Veldman hit Ellis Hirman for a 25-yard score.

Wisecup: “In a weird way, I wasn’t worried. Watching our offense, I had so much confidence in them. I thought they’d come right back out and score.”

The Gusties just needed to convert the PAT kick to send the game to a second OT.

Gustafson: “It was obviously disappointing to see them come back and throw a fade ball for a TD. But, we knew that a block was possible. We weren’t going to give up. We had gotten a good push on the one guy earlier in the game. Wisecup and (Jason) Dilly were definitely pumped up and thinking we had a chance to block it.”

Dilly blocked a PAT in Stout’s first game, a 27-0 loss at St. John’s. So, the linemen had confidence they could do it again.

Miller: “As we’re lining up, I hear it from the sidelines and on the field that the game’s not over yet – we still have another chance and our offense was ready to do exactly what they just did. Our whole entire block unit on the front lines, they all turned around and said, ‘We’re winning this right here!’ I was like, ‘OK.’ A blocked kick is not a very common thing, even though we have one in both of our games. Still, it’s not an easy thing to do. I thought it’d be awesome if we did it. When the ball was snapped, I just saw their whole entire line get blown back. At that moment, I was thinking that they weren’t winning.”

Wisecup: “I knew I had to be the first guy off the ball. The only thing I was looking at was the ball – as soon as I saw a twitch, I was going forward to try bull their guard back to give Scott and Jason some room. I wanted to be as quick as I could. It had to start up front with me. I felt really good. I felt like I was off the ball quick and got underneath him and stood him up a bit. I wound up falling to the ground. I heard the contact made with Scott. I knew it was over from there.”

The snap was a little high on the PAT and Gustafson was able to block the low kick with his facemask.

The block photo repeated from above. Photo by Tim Kruse for UW-Stout athletics
Photo by Tim Kruse for UW-Stout athletics

Gustafson: “A lot of people take those extra points for granted, but we don’t. Aaron just bulled the guy back and got a great push. I followed him up and got there at the right place at the right time and it hit me in the helmet. I didn’t really have time to think. I just reacted and jumped up and tried to make myself as big as possible.”

Birmingham: “As a coach, you’re already thinking about the next OT. It was a surprise to me. We were over with the offense. All of a sudden, we get that play. We like our kick block team. It’s one of those things where, either a team takes pride in that unit or they’re kind of nonchalant about it and let them make the kick and move on. We got a good push and the snap was a little high and I think it threw off the kicker a bit. There might been some hesitation there. The push is what did it for us. It was pretty exciting. That’s a good football team. They have some good players.”

Video screen capture from Gustavus Adolphus broadcast with helmet visible on ground.
Scott Gustafson's helmet is visible on the ground in this screen capture, between the 6- and 7-yard line on the far hash mark.

There was still one problem, there was a loose ball bouncing around.

Gustafson: “I saw the ball on the ground and I jumped on it. I wasn’t sure it was live. I wound up at the bottom of the pile and, somehow, my helmet ended up getting wrestled off my head. You can see it rolling away in the film. At the bottom of the pile, I saw my teammates around me just jumping up and down and throwing their hands in the air. It was at that point I knew we won. I was screaming my head off.”

With his helmet ripped off, Gustafson wound up with some extra reminders of the play, too.

Gustafson: “My lip was bleeding a little bit. I had a scratch below my eye. It’s nothing too bad.”

Wisecup: “On the play, their guard wound up on top of me and I was stuck under him. I started screaming because I knew we won the game. As I was lying on the field screaming, my teammates are jumping around everywhere and I am thinking, ‘Is nobody going to come pick me up?’ Then, I see Scott with his helmet off and he’s bleeding. I am thinking, ‘What in the world happened?’ I actually thought the ball took his helmet off on the kick. He picks me up and we’re celebrating together. I asked if the ball knocked his helmet off and he said that someone ripped it off his head when he was going for the ball.”

It wasn’t the only comeback for a Wisconsin team over the weekend. The Green Bay Packers rallied from a 20-3 deficit to beat the Chicago Bears by the identical score, 24-23, on Sunday.

Birmingham: “In our game, you could sense the momentum shifting, just like you could see the whole stadium shifting for that game. You could sense the Packers were gaining confidence and the Bears were playing on their heels and playing not to lose, like Gustavus did. Once you get that momentum going and keep it rolling, it’s tough to stop.”

Stout (1-1) can let the victory soak in as the team has an open week. It returns to action Sept. 22 at home against California Lutheran.

Wisecup: “I think we’re starting to figure out a couple things we need to tweak offensively and defensively. I think this game showed our strengths and weaknesses on both sides of the ball. I am excited to see what we do heading into the next game. It’ll be interesting to see a team from another part of the region and see what they offer and bring to the table and how that game is going to go.”

Hamer: “This is only going to help us through the season. It definitely boosted our momentum. We know we can win and we know we are scrappy enough to get it done.”

Birmingham: “It’s nice having a comeback and overtime win early in the year. Next time it happens, we know we’ve been there and done that and know what to expect. It’s tough to practice OT situations a lot of times. You just can’t practice coming back as well. You can make scenarios in practice, but it’s just not the same until you get in a game and feel what you have to do. It’s a good learning situation for our guys. Hopefully, we won’t have to do it again.”

Scott Gustafson and teammates celebrate in the background, in focus, while Gustavus players walk off in the foreground
Scott Gustafson, left, celebrates with his UW-Stout teammates while Gustavus Adolphus linemen walk off.
Photo by Tim Kruse for UW-Stout athletics




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