/playoffs/2018/st-norbert-defense-flying-high

St. Norbert defense flying high

More news about: St. Norbert
Matt Barrett takes flight over a would-be blocker from Macalester. (d3photography.com file photo by Steve Frommell)
Senior linebacker Matt Barrett takes flight over a would-be blocker from Macalester.
d3photography.com file photo by Steve Frommell
 

By Adam Turer
D3sports.com

The Green Knights gave up 34 points in a season-opening double-overtime loss to UW-Stevens Point on Sept. 2, 2017.

That was a turning point that led St. Norbert to the second round of the 2018 playoffs, and another meeting with a WIAC opponent.

Drew Vanderlin knows the WIAC well. He arrived at St. Norbert in 2016 after spending four seasons coaching the defensive line at UW-Stevens Point. In his three seasons coordinating the Green Knights defense, St. Norbert has yielded just 10.6 points per game in Midwest Conference play.

After falling short to Monmouth in each of the past two seasons, the Green Knights broke through to claim the MWC title and automatic playoff berth in 2018. They did it on the backs of the defense, which first realized its potential in that 2017 heartbreaker against Vanderlin’s former program.

“We’ve always been a very well-coached defense. I think we really started peaking the first game of last season,” said senior linebacker Matt Gurgone. “We fell short but realized what our defense is capable of. We knew we had most of our defense returning this year. That experience really played a key role in our success this season.”

The Green Knights dropped another double-overtime thriller to a WIAC opponent this season, falling to UW-Eau Claire in Week 2. After shutting down Trine in the first round of the playoffs, they now get a crack at the big dog of the WIAC, traveling to UW-Whitewater. 

“We’re going to treat it like any other week. It doesn’t matter what conference we’re going against,” said senior linebacker Ben Kornowski. “We want to build on our momentum from the previous weeks, and keep fixing smaller things each week. It really doesn’t matter who we’re playing against.”

It doesn’t matter, for instance, if the Green Knights are facing the nation’s leading rusher. They proved that in Round 1, holding Trine’s Lamar Carswell to a season-low 110 yards on 32 carries. Carswell averaged 3.44 yards per carry against St. Norbert; his previous season-low was 5.41 yards per rush. He had scored multiple touchdowns in every game this season, but was kept out of the end zone altogether by the Green Knights.

“We were really excited when we drew Trine because we knew they were a heavy running offense. We knew it was a huge opportunity to show what we can do,” said Kornowski. “We never had any doubt that we’d be able to slow him down. Everybody did their job and trusted each other.”

Trine’s offense was shutout in St. Norbert’s 31-7 victory. The Green Knights defense continued its scoring streak. Kornowski’s pick-six keyed the 10-7 MWC championship win over Monmouth in Week 11. Gurgone scored on two consecutive third-quarter snaps against Trine, returning an interception 26 yards then scooping up a fumble forced by Mike Olijnyk and racing 35 yards to the house.

“We emphasize takeaways every day in practice. We don’t call them turnovers. We call them takeaways because we believe we’re taking the ball away. Our offense gets ticked off in practice, because our defense is always poking at the ball, even if the whistle has blown. It shows every single day,” said coach Dan McCarty. “We expect our players to be within the halo of the ball when the whistle blows. What you see on Saturdays from our defense is everything you see in every single rep of practice during the week. It’s become second nature for these guys.”

The game plans that Vanderlin put in to shut down Monmouth and Trine have the Green Knights feeling confident heading into their biggest challenge to date. They have seen firsthand that if they keep doing what they’ve been trained to do, they can deliver results against any competition.

“It starts with the passion that Drew brings to the defense and the meeting room and how much our players love playing for him and how much he loves our players,” said McCarty. “There’s lots of great schemes out there, but when you can maximize the most out of your players and really trust each other, you can play really fast on defense. It’s been neat to see the progress.”

McCarty has been able to focus much of his attention on the offense. He took over play-calling duties in Week 2, implementing a triple-option attack that can also spread opposing defenses in passing situations. While this offense is still working to maximize the potential of its new scheme, the defense is led by veteran players who are comfortable in their third year running their system. 

“Last year was the first year that we really came together to understand the scheme and trust one another. We saw that really start to form last year,” said Kornowski. “With pretty much all the guys coming back, we knew this could be something special and that we couldn’t waste this opportunity.”

Last year’s heartbreak was additional motivation. The Green Knights fell to Monmouth in overtime, 9-6, in the MWC championship game. This year, they gained sweet revenge in another low-scoring defensive slugfest, 10-7. Kornowski’s interception return was the only touchdown of the game for St. Norbert.

“We had a great team last year and our defense really played great last year, too,” said McCarty. “We didn’t talk about it a lot, but that taste was certainly in all of our mouths after that conference championship game last year.”

Making their first playoff appearance since 2015, the Green Knights have embraced their underdog role. They felt confident going into their first round game against No. 12-ranked Trine, then handed the Thunder their first loss of the season. Knocking off unbeaten No. 5-ranked UW-Whitewater will be a bigger challenge, but one the Green Knights are excited about.

“We knew what we were capable of. Just because we were going into the playoffs playing a ranked team that people thought would roll over us, we felt good that we could show what we’ve been capable of all year,” said Gurgone. “Pretty much everyone on the outside is thinking we’re going to lose [this week]. The only thing that matters is what the people in this program believe.”

There are people outside of the program believing in St. Norbert, too. Specifically, fans of Wabash and the Hansen family. Kornowski got to know Evan Hansen, the Wabash linebacker who died by suicide earlier this season, when the two studied abroad together. The D-III linebackers quickly bonded over their love of football. They spent this past spring watching film and training together while traversing Spain, Morocco, and Scotland. Following Evan’s funeral, his parents attended a St. Norbert home game and met Ben. Although their friendship was brief, it has had a direct and lasting impact on Kornowski this season.

“We always talk about what’s your why and why you play and what drives you to play your best. I met Evan this spring, we trained together, I was fortunate enough to watch film and see how aggressive and what an unbelievable player he was,” said Kornowski, who added another interception in the victory over Trine. “Once I was able to meet his family and see the support they have for me, I really made it a point to emulate Evan on and off the field. I’m trying to play for Evan and myself every play. He’s still with us every day.”

After coming so close to the postseason the past two years, breaking through for the MWC title was cathartic. Earning the program’s first playoff win since 2003 brought even more excitement. The Green Knights are not done with their journey yet.

“As a program, we try to focus on what’s inside and what we believe in. We care about our players and they care about each other. We have a special type of family here,” said McCarty. “This team’s got a lot of confidence in itself. It was really enjoyable for me to see the smiles on the faces of our kids the last two weeks. These kids put in so much time and effort and it was really great for me to see that joy on their faces. Our guys are prepared and we’re excited for the challenge this week.”

Sep. 13: All times Eastern
Final - OT
Coast Guard 24, at Nichols 23
Video Box Score Live stats
Final
Western New England 56, at Westfield State 35
Video Box Score Recap Photos
Final
at Massachusetts Maritime 31, SUNY-Maritime 14
Video Box Score
Final
Becker 12, at Worcester State 10
Video Box Score
Final
William Paterson 28, at FDU-Florham 23
Sep. 14: All times Eastern
Final
at Brockport 14, Framingham State 0
Video Box Score Box Score Recap
Final
at Lawrence Tech 34, Wisconsin Lutheran 14
Video Box Score Photos
Final
at Norwich 30, St. Lawrence 24
Video Box Score
Final
Montclair State 28, at Salve Regina 11
Video Video Box Score Photos
Final
at Utica 26, Buffalo State 15
Video Box Score
Final
at Springfield 21, Kean 14
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at St. John Fisher 35, Bridgewater State 28
Box Score
Final - OT
at Mass-Dartmouth 48, Husson 41
Video Preview Box Score Recap Live stats Photos
Final
Shenandoah 35, at N.C. Wesleyan 19
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Endicott 28, Rochester 3
Video Video Box Score Recap
Final
Cortland 31, at TCNJ 7
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Salisbury 24, UW-Oshkosh 19
Video Box Score
Final
at Franklin Pierce 29, Curry 27
Video Box Score Photos
Final
at Georgetown 69, Catholic 0
Video Box Score Photos
Final
University of New England 35, at Alvernia 28
Video Box Score Photos
Final
Ferrum 55, at Greensboro 7
Video Box Score
Final
Hamilton 37, at Bowdoin 24
Video Box Score Recap Photos
Final
at Amherst 27, Bates 13
Video Box Score Photos
Final
Union 54, at Anna Maria 7
Box Score
Final
at Plymouth State 48, Maine Maritime 6
Video Box Score
Final
Wittenberg 36, at Hiram 12
Video Box Score
Final
at Wesleyan 30, Colby 10
Video Box Score Photos
Final
at Wooster 17, Oberlin 0
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Hanover 49, Adrian 28
Video Box Score
Final
Guilford 19, at Methodist 14
Video Box Score Recap Photos
Final
at Franklin and Marshall 54, Juniata 0
Video Video Box Score
Final
Susquehanna 28, at Johns Hopkins 27
Video Video Box Score Recap
Final
Hobart 38, at Morrisville State 24
Final
at Lycoming 43, Widener 42
Video Box Score
Final
Ripon 45, at Finlandia 12
Video Box Score
Final
Washington and Jefferson 59, at Thiel 0
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Westminster (Pa.) 45, Waynesburg 21
Video
Final - 4OT
Wesley 24, at Delaware Valley 18
Video Box Score Recap Live stats Audio
Final
at Alfred 15, George Fox 14
Video Box Score
Final
at Wilkes 30, Lebanon Valley 24
Video
Final
McDaniel 13, at Moravian 10
Video Box Score Photos
Final
Muhlenberg 38, at Dickinson 9
Video Box Score
Final
Ursinus 48, at Gettysburg 10
Video Box Score
Final
at Washington and Lee 42, Sewanee 7
Video Box Score Recap
Final
UW-Whitewater 20, at Concordia-Moorhead 10
Recap Box Score Video
Final
at St. Scholastica 41, Presentation 13
Video Box Score Recap
Final
Claremont-Mudd-Scripps 30, at Northwestern (Minn.) 7
Video Box Score
Final
at Tufts 14, Trinity (Conn.) 8
Video Box Score Recap Photos
Final
Ohio Northern 39, at Muskingum 10
Video Box Score Photos Photos
Final
at Hope 80, Defiance 6
Video Box Score Recap Photos
Final
Trine 35, at Bluffton 20
Video Box Score
Final
at Heidelberg 35, Wilmington 10
Video Box Score
Final
at Middlebury 17, Williams 13
Video Box Score Photos
Final
Linfield 35, at Rowan 14
Video Box Score Recap
Final
Baldwin Wallace 45, at Otterbein 28
Video Box Score Recap
Final
Ohio Wesleyan 42, at Kenyon 0
Video Box Score
Final
at Fitchburg State 12, Castleton 10
Video Box Score
Final
at Central 45, DePauw 19
Video Box Score Recap
Final
Millsaps 35, at Westminster (Mo.) 10
Video Box Score
Final
Olivet 54, at Concordia-Chicago 24
Video Box Score Recap Recap Photos
Final
at UW-Stevens Point 31, Wabash 28
Video Photos
Final
Carleton 20, at Lawrence 10
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Simpson 27, Chicago 23
Video Box Score
Final
at Greenville 31, Kalamazoo 17
Video Box Score Recap
Final
Concordia (Wis.) 31, at Augsburg 0
Video Box Score Photos
Final
at Martin Luther 34, Rockford 20
Video Box Score
Final
at Lake Forest 44, Grinnell 0
Video Box Score Photos
Final
Bethel 38, at UW-River Falls 20
Video Box Score Photos
Final
at St. Norbert 27, UW-Eau Claire 21
Video Box Score Recap Photos
Final
at Crown 23, Beloit 6
Video Photos
Final
Aurora 48, at Elmhurst 22
Video Box Score Recap
Final
Howard Payne 56, at McMurry 37
Video Box Score
Final - 2OT
at UW-La Crosse 33, Illinois Wesleyan 27
Video Box Score Recap Live stats Audio
Final
at Knox 44, Iowa Wesleyan 0
Video Box Score
Final
at Nebraska Wesleyan 25, Illinois College 20
Video
Final
Gustavus Adolphus 41, at UW-Stout 31
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at WPI 6, RPI 3
Box Score Recap
Final
St. Olaf 33, at Luther 20
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at La Verne 43, Willamette 33
Video Box Score
Final
at Pomona-Pitzer 20, Lewis and Clark 0
Video Video Box Score
Final
at Pacific Lutheran 17, Cal Lutheran 10
Video Box Score
Final
Hartwick 30, at Alfred State 20
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Western Connecticut 41, Dean 16
Video Box Score
Final
Alma 35, at Manchester 7
Video Box Score Photos
Final
Randolph-Macon 30, at Averett 27
Video Box Score Recap
Final
Albion 48, at Franklin 26
Video Box Score Photos
Final
at Berry 34, LaGrange 9
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Anderson 27, Cincinnati Christian 23
Box Score
Final - OT
Hampden-Sydney 27, at Christopher Newport 24
Video Box Score Live stats Audio
Final
Carnegie Mellon 31, at Geneva 6
Video Box Score Recap
Final
Marietta 44, at Capital 7
Video Box Score Recap
Final
Bridgewater 37, at Stevenson 22
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Centre 27, Maryville (Tenn.) 22
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Grove City 26, Bethany 15
Video Box Score
Final
Austin 27, at Southwestern Assemblies 26
Video
Final
at Loras 42, Benedictine 14
Video Box Score
Final
at Hardin-Simmons 16, Trinity (Texas) 10
Video Box Score Photos Photos
Final
at Dubuque 37, Pacific 26
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Buena Vista 27, Concordia (Neb.) 24
Video
Final
at Birmingham-Southern 45, Huntingdon 13
Video Video Box Score
Final
at Eureka 41, MacMurray 24
Video Box Score Photos
Final
Hendrix 26, at Texas Lutheran 23
Video Box Score Photos
Final
at Mary Hardin-Baylor 56, Albright 15
Video Box Score
Final
Valley City State 67, at Minnesota-Morris 7
Video
Final
at Wartburg 38, Monmouth 9
Video Box Score
Final
Rose-Hulman 30, at Rhodes 0
Video Box Score Recap
Final
Hamline 31, at Macalester 27
Video Box Score
Final
Louisiana College 20, at Belhaven 14
Final
at Texas A&M-Kingsville 72, Sul Ross State 0
Final
at Redlands 58, Puget Sound 7
Video Box Score
Sep. 15: All times Eastern
Final
at Coe 38, Cornell 0
Video Photos Photos
Sep. 19: All times Eastern
7:00 PM
Manchester at Defiance
@ Defiance High School
Video Live stats
Sep. 5: All times Eastern
Final
Johns Hopkins 17, at Randolph-Macon 12
Video Box Score Recap Recap
Sep. 6: All times Eastern
Final
Delaware Valley 37, at Kean 7
Video Box Score Recap
Sep. 7: All times Eastern
Final
at RPI 52, Allegheny 14
Video Box Score Recap
Final
North Central (Ill.) 43, at Christopher Newport 13
Video Box Score Recap Photos
Final
Wesley 69, at Franklin Pierce 0
Video Box Score Photos
Final
at Muhlenberg 45, TCNJ 26
Video Video Box Score
Final
Ithaca 66, at St. Vincent 28
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Washington and Jefferson 16, Wittenberg 8
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at John Carroll 21, UW-Stevens Point 7
Video Box Score
Final
Centre 45, at Hanover 31
Video Box Score Recap
Final
Berry 31, at Maryville (Tenn.) 10
Video Box Score
Final
at Bethel 42, Simpson 10
Video Video Box Score
Final
Wheaton (Ill.) 38, at Monmouth 0
Video Box Score
Final
St. John's 14, at UW-Stout 7
Video Box Score Recap Photos
Final - OT
at UW-La Crosse 21, Concordia-Moorhead 14
Video Box Score Recap
Final
Whitworth 50, at La Verne 24
Video Box Score Recap Photos
Final
at St. Thomas 69, Trinity International 3
Video Video Box Score Recap Photos
Final
at UW-Whitewater 42, Dubuque 7
Video Box Score Photos
Final
Mount Union 66, at Rose-Hulman 14
Video Box Score Photos Photos
Final
Hardin-Simmons 64, at Sul Ross State 0
Box Score Photos