ANGOLA, Ind. - St. Norbert College turned in yet another virtuoso defensive effort in a season full of them as the Green Knights defeated Trine University in a first-round NCAA Division III Playoff game at Fred Zollner Athletic Stadium.
The Green Knights (10-1) will face UW-Whitewater at Noon Saturday, Nov. 24 at Perkins Stadium in Whitewater in a second-round game. Trine, ranked No. 12 in the D3football.com Top 25, saw its season end 10-1.
St. Norbert's defense, which scored two touchdowns 19 seconds apart in the third quarter, took the ball away from the Thunder six times and held the potent Trine offense to just 173 yards of total offense - with 79 coming on the last two series of the game with the outcome effectively decided. The Thunder was averaging a whopping 461 yards of total offense per game coming into the contest. Trine's standout running back Lamar Carswell, who was leading Division III in rushing yards per game at 218.4, was held to 110 on 32 carries.
Ironically, Trine took the early lead with a defensive touchdown of its own. Following a scoreless first quarter, the Thunder took a 7-0 lead when Cayleel Hill intercepted a pass and returned it 27 yards for a touchdown with 11:30 remaining in the second period.
St. Norbert responded with an impressive 12-play, 75-yard match, with 11 of the plays coming on the ground. Drew Rhodes plunged in from one yard out to knot the game 7-7 with 5:57 left before halftime.
Five plays later, Mike Olijnyk forced a fumble and recovered it at the Trine 14. St. Norbert needed just three plays to score, with Rhodes again scoring from a yard out at the 1:56 mark for a 14-7 lead that would carry into halftime.
St. Norbert got possession to start the second half but fumbled on the first play with Trine taking over at the St. Norbert 33. The Green Knights would hold, however, as Ben Kornowski came up with an interception to halt the threat. St. Norbert had the ensuing drive stall at the Trine 17 and missed a field goal, but Carswell fumbled the ball to St. Norbert on the next play. That miscue would turn into a 19-yard field go by Spenser Thompson-Meyers with 6:07 left in the third quarter.
The Green Knights' defense continued the pressure, with Matt Gurgone intercepting a Brandon Winters pass and returning it 26 yards for a touchdown and a 24-7 lead with 6:01 to go. The "pick six" was Gurgone's third of the season, tying a NCAA Division III season record. Trine then turned the ball over on its third consecutive offensive play, with Olijnyk forcing a Carswell fumble and Olijnyk scooping it up for a 35-yard touchdown return with 5:42 to go and a 31-7 lead.
Trine's last-ditch rally included a 17-play, 70-yard drive early in the fourth quarter that siphoned 8:30 off the clock, but Kornowski grabbed an interception in the end zone to salt away the victory.
St. Norbert held a 304-173 edge in total offense, including 278 rushing yards. Rhodes rushed 23 times for 130 yards and two touchdowns and completed 3 of 5 passes for 26 yards. Nate Ihlenfeldt rushed 15 times for 82 yards.
Trine passed for just 40 yards, with Brandon Winters completing 3 of 12 passes for 40 yards. The Thunder finished with 133 rushing yards on 48 carries.
Olijnyk and Matt Barrett had 11 tackles apiece, with Olijnyk finishing with three tackles-for-loss, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. Gurgone, who has now scored five defensive touchdowns this season, had 10 stops with 2 1/2 tackles for loss. Ben Kornowski had six tackles in addition to his two interceptions. The Green Knights totaled 12 tackles-for-loss.