Vikings set to defend Key to the City
Few sporting events can match the intensity and passion that conference rivalry games bring out in collegiate athletics.
Then comes the rare instance of two rivals being separated by two blocks in central Sioux Falls, and the fire of the rivalry burns a little hotter. Especially in football.
“I can walk to USF within five minutes,” Augustana senior wideout Matt Heller said. “Everywhere we go, we see them. I see them at Bagel Boy, at the gas station, the grocery store. Some players are even neighbors with us.”
Augustana and USF meet for the 23rd time on Saturday in the Key to the City game at Kirkeby-Over Stadium. The Vikings hold the all-time edge, 19-3, but the Cougars have won three of the last four matchups since joining the NSIC in 2012 after joining Division II the year before.
Augustana’s lone win came last season, when the Vikings overcame five turnovers in USF’s stadium to sneak away with a 35-28 victory. C.J. Ham rumbled for a 31-yard touchdown in the final minute to give Augustana the win.
Vikings head coach Jerry Olszewski said that win was a little sweeter than the typical NSIC victory.
“We hadn’t beaten them (since they joined Division II),” he said. “That was pretty big for our program, just from the standpoint of, you have to get your first before you can get more.”
It also allowed the Vikings to make up ground on the Cougars in the NSIC South Division race, which again is the case in 2016.
USF is a perfect 4-0, Augustana is 3-1. Whichever team wins will control its own destiny for the division title near the midpoint of the season.
Both teams are coming off games that went down to the wire in Week 4. But while the Cougars came back from a 20-3 halftime deficit to beat Bemidji State, the Vikings fell at Minnesota-Duluth after blowing an 11-point, fourth-quarter lead.
Despite the tough loss and a date with his team’s bitter rivals, Olszewski said Augustana will prepare like it would for any other game.
“Our guys get 48 hours to get over a win or a loss,” Olszewski said. “That’s kind of the team policy. You move on. The next opportunity will pass you by if you don’t move on. My biggest message to the guys is, ‘Duluth can’t beat us twice. Don’t let that game linger in your thoughts or control your actions for the remaining week.’”
Which ever team’s defense shows up will probably win. Augustana has the third-ranked scoring offense in the nation at 48.5 points per game, while USF is 15th (42.3 ppg).
USF, meanwhile, has racked up the second-most yards per game in the country (569.5). The Vikings sit in 20th (497.3).
Senior quarterback Luke Papilion leads the Cougars’ offense similarly to how senior Trey Heid leads the Vikings’—both can make defenses pay with their legs and their arms.
Papilion has rushed for 477 yards and nine touchdowns while throwing for 685 yards and seven scores. Heid has thrown for 1231 yards and 15 touchdowns, leading the NSIC in both categories. He’s also the team’s leading rusher.
Heid said the team doesn’t need to do anything special on offense; it just needs to limit turnovers.
“We have put up a lot of points and yards,” he said. “The times we get stopped are usually mistakes by us.”
Senior right tackle Chris Mathieu said with both quarterbacks being so talented, the battle in the trenches could determine the game.
“Offensive line play will be a premium for either team,” he said. “Trey is a super gifted kid, and if we can keep him clean up front, he’ll make the plays we need him to make. No one needs to go out Saturday and be a superhero for us to win, we just need to perform like we know we can perform.”
At the very least, Augustana will need a big game from Heid and Heller, who have combined for 73 percent of the team’s yardage this season, according to GoAugie—especially with the Vikings’ other dynamic deep threat, Charlie Hayes, who is likely to miss his fourth-consecutive game with a broken finger.
“We never want to lose to USF in anything,” Heid said. “If there was a competition to see who could tie (his) shoe faster, I would want to win that, too.”