Last Saturday, the University of Northwestern-St. Paul Eagles football team opened their season in St. Olaf. In their last meeting in 2014’s opener, the Eagles won on a touchdown pass in the final minutes in a closely contested game. On Saturday, things looked like they were headed in the same direction.
With less than three minutes to go and down a field goal, St. Olaf had driven into UNW territory. After the Eagles defense stiffened in the red zone, the Oles lined up for the tying 27 yard field goal (essentially a chip shot). The ball was snapped, the Eagles defense rose up, and they blocked the kick.
Then it happened.
Dear goodness it happened.
In any level of football, if a field goal is blocked and it doesn’t land in your hands, you are coached not to touch the football. The Eagles temporarily lost their minds, and immediately did so. They couldn’t hold onto it, and the Oles took over with a fresh set of downs that eventually led the Eagles demise.
The Eagles did not lose because Ben Lyons missed a long field goal. It was just part of a long list of blunders and early season jitters that plagued UNW throughout their trip to Northfield. Without further ado, here’s why you need to worry about the season:
1. Grant Schoen. After 3 years as a backup, Schoen got his chance to shine. And shine he did not. Twice throughout the game Schoen overthrew open receivers who would have walked into the endzone untouched. Also, Grant, my man- GET THE BALL TO DAN PETKAU. That man is a freak of nature just waiting to be unleashed.
2. Chris Simon-Wallace. The running game on Saturday was acceptable. They broke off good chunks of yardage and alleviated a lot of pressure from Schoen. However, the team’s best RB was missing due to academic ineligibility. If they don’t get him back for the whole season, it will be very disappointing. His dynamic and punishing running style is exactly what the Eagles were missing. Last year vs. St. Olaf, he averaged 8.5 yards per carry for 101 yards, terrorizing the Ole defense all night.
3. An abundance of mental mistakes. Touching a blocked field goal. Missing open receivers. Missed extra point.
Now that you’re thoroughly angry, here’s why you need to relax:
1. The weapons. Even without Simon-Wallace, the Eagles running game is enough to help Schoen through the UMAC season and allow him to figure out his game. Joey Stevens, Jake Fettig and the starter, Zac Cash, are all experienced and solid RB’s. Receiving, they have possibly the best group of wideouts in the conference. Joe Sutton, six-foot six UNW basketball player Dan Petkau, and Caleb Couwenhoven are an explosive group.
2. The defense. Gideon Burnham in his second season played like a man possessed: 4 tackles, 2 sacks, almost an interception. Nathan Van Zee looks like the man we saw last year. Austin Stubbs played an incredible game at corner, leading the team in tackles and looks fully healthy after last year’s injury early in the season. This defense is undoubtedly the best in the UMAC and will cover up a multitude of shortcomings offensively (they only allowed 9 points against St. Olaf).
3. The coaching staff. Lead by Kirk Tally, the coaches aren’t worried. The loss doesn’t hurt their playoff contention as it was out of conference. They need to eliminate the mental mistakes and help get Grant Schoen on track to at least direct the offense. Luckily, the Eagles have one of the best staffs out there, and with a weak opponent this week (Crown), they should get back on track.
All of this being said, if the Eagles don’t beat Crown handily, there is GREAT need for concern.
The game can be heard on this site, 88.1 FM, or 98.5 HD4. Luke Larson, David Pederson, and Jonathan Bartsch have the call.