Frank Haege had spent a half-dozen seasons attempting to get Augsburg out of its familiar position near the bottom of the MIAC football standings. The Auggies were 13-35 in conference games from 2005 through 2010.
Haege’s Auggies reached .500 (4-4) in the MIAC for the first time in 2011. Ayrton Scott arrived as a freshman quarterback in 2012, and Augsburg went 5-3 to tie St. Olaf for fourth place.
That’s the first division in a nine-team league. By Augsburg’s usual standards, that would be considered a triumph, but Haege and the Auggies came into this season with much higher aspirations.
Scott was back with his main offensive weapons, including senior Adam Carl, a Division III All-America at tight end. The Auggies also added receiver Joey Sonnenfeld as a transfer from North Dakota State.
The Auggies opened with a nonconference win against Concordia (Wis.) and then conference victories over Gustavus and Hamline.
On Saturday, it was time for the Auggies to discover if they belonged with the big fellas. They made the short trip to Arden Hills to take on Bethel for the Royals’ homecoming.
Bethel had won 15 in a row vs. Augsburg. Most of the high-impact players from Bethel’s NCAA playoff team were back. And that veteran collection of talent kept the streak intact: Bethel 31, Augsburg 28.
The situation looked much more comfortable than that for the Royals early in the fourth quarter. They started the second half with an 11-play, 82-yard touchdown drive to break a 14-14 tie. They escaped a third-and-16 situation to trigger another touchdown drive.
Andrew O’Reilly’s 31-yard field goal made it 31-14 with 13½ minutes remaining. Scott had his dangerous moments, but linebacker Seth Mathis and his defensive partners had made this dank afternoon largely frustrating for the 5-10, 220-pound quarterback from Minneapolis Southwest.
That’s the way it looked from the stands, anyway — as if Bethel’s defense had control of the situation. That’s not the way it felt on the field.
“Ayrton is a player … probably the best athlete in Division III football,” Mathis said.
Mathis is a 6-3, 245-pound senior from Anoka. Steve Johnson calls Mathis the best linebacker he’s had in 25 years as the head coach at Bethel, and that’s saying something.
And even with this, the Royals were trying at all costs to avoid giving Scott and his explosiveness a chance in the final two minutes.
Scott led an 87-yard touchdown drive that concluded with a 7-yard pass to Carl with 7:35 remaining. A minute later, Hakeem Bourne-McFarlane came up with an interception. This time, the drive went 51 yards — the last 27 being Scott’s second TD hookup of the afternoon with Sonnenfeld.
“The coaches told me early last summer we were getting a transfer from NDSU, and he was pretty good,” Scott said. “Then, I started working out with Joey this summer and said, ‘Yes, he is.’ ”
Scott’s third TD pass (with two interceptions) made it 31-28 with 3:23 left. Haege ordered an onside kick and it was recovered by Bethel.
Game over? Not in Bethel’s opinion.
Twice, Johnson had Erik Peterson throw on third down to keep the ball away from Scott. On the first, Bethel was rewarded with a pass interference call. On the second, Drew Neuville made an acrobatic catch for a first down.
Peterson finally was able to take a knee and run out the clock. Scott had spent the last 3½ minutes of scoreboard time shouting encouragement toward the defense, hoping for a last chance that didn’t arrive.
“I was spying on Scott on most plays,” Mathis said. “We tried to keep him inside the edges of the defense. With him, you’re probably in more trouble when he brings the ball down and runs than when he throws.
“He’s still young as a quarterback … only a sophomore. Before he’s done, Ayrton is going to be known as one of the best players this league has seen in a while.”
There’s one thing for certain that Scott, who finished with 90 yards rushing and was 19-for-27 for 186 yards passing, would like to know before leaving Augsburg:
“Bethel beat us by a point last year and three today. Maybe we can get ’em next year. It would be great to do that.”