CFB: Augie Battles #3 MSU-Mankato to the Wire

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. -- Blue skies and sunshine covered Kirkeby-Over stadium on Saturday, making for a perfect afternoon for the Augustana football team to open up their 2018 home schedule.

The Vikings literally battled to final whistle against DII No. 3 Minnesota State - including a touchdown with no time left - but couldn’t secure a two-point attempt as the conversion fell and the Vikings lost 38-36.

Vikings head coach Jerry Olszewski was disappointed in the result but impressed by his team's performance and ability to not give up. “I thought our fight was great, Olszewski said. “I thought our kids played four quarters of solid football against a really good football team. We had a chance to win, but they just made a few plays late in the game.” The loss drops the Vikings to 1-1 overall, and 1-1 in the NSIC. No. 3 Minnesota State is now 2-0, (2-0).

The Vikings won the toss and deferred the second half, giving the Mavericks the first possession on offense. The Augie defense came out strong, but Ryan Schlichte converted a few big first downs, and Nate Gunn caped off the drive with a two-yard touchdown and 7-0 led. The Vikings promptly drove right back down the field with an eight-play 75-yard drive and Rudy Sinflorant continued to ride the wave, capitalizing with a five-yard touchdown. He led the Vikings with 62 yards on 13 carries. A poor snap on the PAT made it a 7-6 game early in the first.

The story on offense for the Vikings was the play of Kyle Saddler. The sophomore signal caller had his best career college game, ripping off a career-high 451 yards and three touchdowns. It’s the Vikings first 400+ yard passer Since Trey Heid (Oct. 22, 2016), and also give Saddler back-to-back 300 yard/three TD games.

Junior Linebacker Kyle Theis was also impressive, racking up a career-high 17 tackles and one sack. After a three-and-out from the Mavericks, Saddler and the Vikings offense went right back to work, hitting numerous different receivers and keeping the chains movings. With just seconds left in the 1st quarter, Saddler rolled out on a play-action pass and hit Chet Perenboom wide open for a catch-and-run 49-yard touchdown. That gave the Vikings their first lead at 13-7 at the end of the first quarter.

The Vikings kept the foot on the gas in the second quarter. After picking off two passes last week, Junior defensive back Michael Kloza outdid himself with a one-handed highlight-reel interception in the end zone. The Vikings took over possession, and once again Saddler was throwing darts, driving the Vikings down the field and inside the 30-yard line. Then it was Jake Welsheimer with a highlight play of his own, diving full-extension to make a 24-yard touchdown. The Vikings had the nations No. 3 team on the ropes, leading 20-7 late in the first half.
The second half saw the Vikings start with the ball and a 20-14 lead. Led by great offensive line play up front, Saddler had plenty of time and marched the offense downfield.

After a pair of first downs, Saddler dropped a 43-yard dime to Nickel Meyers in the front of the end zone for a touchdown. Meyers, a junior from Sioux Falls, had his best game in a Vikings jersey, pulling in seven catches for a career-best 132 yards and one touchdown. Sophomore Sean Engel also had his second-straight strong game, racking up 85 yards on eight catches.

Later in the 3rd, Mankato started the comeback, including a two-yard touchdown rush from Nate Gunn, as well a 40-yard pass from Schlichte to All-NSIC player Shane Zylstra. Gunn led all players with 131 rushing yards, and Zylstra was the top statistical receiver, hauling in 7 grabs for 134 yards.

Minnesota State would take the lead in the 4th quarter, building a 38-30 advantage on a Schlichte seven-yard run. But the Vikings offense wasn’t going down without a fight. Saddler drove the Vikings inside the one-yard line, and then with three seconds left, called his own number on a QB rollout. Saddler went airborne but broke the goal line for the score! However, his helmet came off forcing him to sit out one play, which was the two-point attempt. A pass from backup QB Zach Masoli was tipped, juggled, and dropped, ending the Vikings chance at an upset.

The Vikings, who were looking for their first win against Mankato in eight years, took the nations No 3. To the final buzzer, and competed for 60 minutes. The result was disappointing, but coach ‘OJ’ knows the team will be stronger because of this experience and result. “Now it’s time to watch some film and get better. I know our kids will learn from any mistakes, and be ready to hit the road next week to take on a talented team in Wayne State,” Olszewski said.

Augustana will now get back on the road for their next NSIC action, taking on Wayne State next Saturday. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. in Wayne, Neb.

Game Notes:
• Sophomore quarterback Kyle Saddler spun 28 completions for a career-high 451 yards and 3 touchdowns. It's his third career 300-yard game and marks the first time in his career he has gone back-to-back games throwing for 300 yards.
• Junior DB Michael Kloza picked off another pass on Saturday..He now leads the NSIC with 3 on the year.
• Sophomore WR Nickel Meyers had a career-high 132 receiving yards and one touchdown.
• Junior linebacker Kyle Theis was lights out, setting a career mark with 17 total tackles and 1 sack.
• The 521 yards of total offense is the most the Vikings have had since Oct. 15, 2016 (576 vs. Minnesota State).
• Saturday's home opener marked the beginning of the 10th season of football at Kirkeby-Over Stadium.
• Augustana is 6-3 all-time in home openers at K.O.
• All-time, the Vikings sport a 35-18 (.663) record at Kirkeby-Over stadium and have outscored their opponents 1,691-1,059 at home through nine seasons.
• The Vikings are now 23-26 (.459) against Minnesota State Mankato, and just 2-9 in their last 11 matchups.
• Minnesota State has not lost an NSIC road game in nearly two years with their last loss being Oct. 1, 2016, at Winona State.
• The last time Augie knocked off a ranked opponent was Oct. 24 of 2015, when they captured the Key To The City with a 35-28 win over #5 Sioux Falls.
• The 48 points the Vikings scored vs. Upper Iowa are the most the Vikings have scored since 10/10/16 (44 at Wayne State).
• The Vikings are 32-25 all-time under head coach Jerry Olszewski with coach 'OJ' earning his first ever win as a Viking at MSU Moorhead in the 2013 season-opener, 41-28.