It was snowing and 36 degrees in Kirkeby-Over Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 12, when sophomore kicker Luis Guarita sent a 35-yard field goal sailing through the 20 mph winds and between the uprights of the Augustana goal post.
That was just enough to boost the Vikings (4-2, 4-2 NSIC) past an overtime tie to a 16-13 win against the St. Cloud State University Huskies (3-3, 3-3 NSIC) in front of a Viking Days crowd of 2,945 students, alumni and fans.
“The weather doesn’t change anything,” said senior defensive lineman Logan Swanson. “This is fun. It’s like playing in a snow globe.”
The game started slow, with both teams’ defenses closing each other off to any scoring opportunities in the first quarter. This continued in the second quarter until senior quarterback Zach Masoli set the Vikings up for success with a 38-yard run to the Huskies’ 31-yard line. Junior quarterback Kyle Saddler — who started but was replaced by Masoli earlier in the drive — found himself back in on the 25-yard line and floated the ball to senior wide receiver Jake Welsheimer for a touchdown. Guarita tacked on an extra point, securing a 7-0 lead for the Vikings.
But the lead didn’t last long. With 1:09 left in the first quarter, St. Cloud recovered a fumble by freshman running back Jarod Epperson on the 16-yard line and an 11-yard pass from senior quarterback Dwayne Lahorn to senior tight end Anthony Carver put the Huskies on the five-yard line. Senior running back Curtwan Evans was able to use St. Cloud State’s position to punch in a touchdown and junior kicker Adam Stage followed with a successful kick that tied up the score by halftime.
When the Vikings went into the locker room, Olszewski focused his message on moving past the mistakes of the first half and starting the second with a determination to finish.
“We had to get over to the last minute and forty seconds,” Olszewski said. “That should’ve never happened, we shouldn’t have gotten in the position to have that score given up. So [the message] was really about changing the page from that last two minutes and understand that the game is 0-0 regardless and it’s going to be a gritty second half.”
Late in the third quarter, the Vikings found themselves on the 27-yard line with a fourth-down and nine yards to go. They turned to Guarita for a successful field goal attempt, bringing the Vikings up to 10. St. Cloud State fought back at 9:54 in the fourth quarter, with a field goal by Stage.
With 1:20 left in the fourth quarter, Guarita once again pulled through for the Vikings with a field goal, only to be countered by Stage with four seconds left in the game. It was in overtime that Augustana was able to come out on top after defensively forcing a fumble, recovering it and setting Guarita up on the 35-yard line for his game-winning field goal kick.
Guarita was the highest scorer against St. Cloud State, pulling in 9 points total with three field goals. He is currently ranked 10th in the nation for field goal percentage with a 90 percent accuracy rate and seventh in the nation for field goals per game, averaging 1.8.
“He’s been stellar,” Olszewski said. “He’s just having a great year. Luis was getting better all of last season and I’m just so pleased and happy for him because he really worked hard at it.”
Defensively, Augustana has already had a strong season, holding opponents to 14.8 points per game and the Viking’s performance against St. Cloud exemplified that. Sophomore linebacker T.J. Liggett led the team with 9 tackles, while senior defensive back Michael Kloza followed with 7. Both Swanson and sophomore Jonathan Lee were able to pull in solo sacks.
“Our kids play fast, they play together and they believe in what we’re doing,” Olszewski said. “So I’m really pleased with how we’re playing and expect that to continue.”
St. Cloud also had a strong defensive performance, with senior defensive back Matthew Lechner, sophomore defensive back Alec Hafferman and sophomore inside linebacker Devon Krzanowski leading the way with 9 tackles each. Senior defensive end Ferris Ingraham had one sack.
Augustana’s homecoming tradition dates back to 1924, though it was not until 1929 that it was officially named Viking Days. For Swanson, the presence of alumni and past players makes a Viking Days victory feel especially sweet.
“Games like this, like during Viking Days, it’s for all of the alumni,” Swanson said. “You have to think of all of the people before you and play for them.”
The Vikings will travel to Scheels Field at Nemzek Stadium in Moorhead, Minnesota next Saturday to take on Minnesota State University Moorhead. The game is set to start at 1 p.m.
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