ST. PETER, MINN. – Gustavus Adolphus has won 22 titles in MIAC football. The downside is that only one has come in the previous 40 seasons. Dennis Raarup won a title in 1987 and then retired.
Peter Haugen is the third coach since Raarup to try to get the Gusties back among the MIAC’s contenders. He was the surprise selection among a large field of candidates when the Gustavus job opened after the 2008 season.
Gustavus went with Haugen’s résumé, rather than the fact he was a Bethel graduate (1991) and not a Gustie. Haugen had spent 15 seasons at Minneapolis Washburn, won 11 City titles and posted a 76-8 conference record.
Haugen and his family get big points for the way they have involved themselves in the campus and the city of St. Peter. That community work only takes a football coach so far at Gustavus.
The Gusties were 13-27 overall and 10-22 in his first four seasons. He was asked early on Saturday morning what it will take for a turnaround.
“We haven’t competed poorly,” Haugen said. “We’ve been close. We haven’t been able to finish. We have to start doing that.”
The Gusties didn’t finish in the MIAC opener and lost 19-16 at Augsburg. This was followed by two walkovers: 45-19 over a St. Olaf team that’s down this year, and 52-7 over a Hamline team that’s down this quarter-century.
There was a potential program turner on Saturday afternoon, as St. Thomas came to Hollingsworth Field. The Tommies had showed vulnerability with a shocking, home-field loss to St. John’s two weeks ago.
Also: Gustavus won twice in the MIAC last season, and St. Thomas reached the national championship game, yet the Gusties played the Tommies within 28-14 in St. Paul.
So, there was hope … and wind, a roaring wind that swept over the plateau on which the Gusties’ splendid, seven-year-old stadium rests.
Alex Fenske comes from Marshall, Minn. That’s near hundreds of wind turbines that overlook the prairie of southwest Minnesota.
“Those turbines had plenty of wind to generate power today,” Fenske said around 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, after the Tommies survived with a 20-12 victory.
Fenske, a 6-foot-4, 206-pound sophomore, was the No. 4 quarterback in the Tommies’ preseason camp. Backup Ben Duncan was injured. Last week, starter Matt O’Connell missed a game with pneumonia. John Gould and Fenske alternated in a 65-6 romp against Carleton.
O’Connell was back on Saturday. And then he wasn’t.
The Tommies were leading 7-6 in the second quarter. O’Connell was going to throw on first down from the Gusties 46. There was heavy traffic, he got rid of the ball, there was a collision and the bottom of a leg went the wrong way.
Soon, there were players from both teams waving for help. After five minutes, O’Connell left sitting on a stretcher.
Coach Glenn Caruso was not ready to confirm the injury as a broken ankle that would end O’Connell’s season. What he said was: “Obviously, it doesn’t look good.”
The Tommies tried Gould, more of a runner than passer, for a couple of series — and then went with Fenske’s stronger arm.
It wasn’t exactly a Rembrandt the rest of the way for Fenske. He threw an 11-yard TD pass to Dan Ferrazzo to make it 13-6, and then threw an interception. That led to a Gusties touchdown that cut the lead to 13-12 early in the fourth period.
The interception was by linebacker Lucas Kleinschrodt. He had two fumble recoveries in the first half. It was quite a display from senior linebackers: Joe Haas had 13 tackles for the Gusties, and the Tommies’ Treymane Williams (interception, 1½ sacks, eight tackles) was the best player on the field.
Once it was 13-12, the Tommies needed something. They pounded away behind tailback Jack Kaiser before reaching third down at the Gusties 11. Fenske threw to the end zone, the ball was swatted by a defender and tight end Cole Kelly grabbed it on the ricochet for a touchdown.
This was Kelly’s first game of the season after hip surgery in June. It also put Fenske in position to be the starter for next Saturday’s showdown at Bethel.
As for Haugen’s Gusties, they’re still waiting for a victory that might be a program turner.