Green Knights get defensive in win at home
By Rich Palzewic
DE PERE – The St. Norbert College football team got its 2018 season underway with a 16-7 nonconference victory over Aurora University Sept. 1 at Schneider Stadium in De Pere.
Despite turning the ball over four times in the first half, the Green Knights’ defense allowed just 164 yards, scored a touchdown and held the Spartans to 1-for-14 on third-down conversions.
Aurora was forced to punt on 10 of its 14 possessions in the first-ever meeting in football between the two teams.
“It was a great effort all around from our defense,” said fourth-year head coach Dan McCarty. “We were opportunistic in getting some takeaways – something that we take pride in and practice every day. On the flip side, we can’t give the ball away like we did. Poor fundamentals led to the turnovers on our part. We have a lot that we have to work on and clean up, but I’m not surprised by our defense. I told our team at halftime that we didn’t play a great first half, but we were still up. We came out in the second half and played much better.”
The Green Knights’ offense had a pair of fumbles and interceptions in the first 30 minutes of play, but still led 10-7 at the break thanks in large part to Matt Gurgone, a senior linebacker from Orland Park, Illinois.
With St. Norbert trailing 7-0 halfway through the second quarter, Gurgone picked off a Gavin Zimbleman pass and returned it 20 yards for a score to put the Green Knights up by three.
Gurgone also ended the first half by sacking Zimbleman with the Spartans at the St. Norbert 29-yard line with just seconds remaining.
“I let my team down by allowing the (Aurora) touchdown to start, so I was frustrated with myself,” said Gurgone. “I just wanted to get the team back in it – they ran the same play and I just jumped the route, picked it and ran it into the end zone. The defense played great and it was a great team win.”
In addition to his interception return for a touchdown, Gurgone had four tackles, two quarterback sacks and two forced fumbles.
Aurora struck first on the opening play of the second quarter to go up 7-0. Zimbleman hit Connor Olson with an 18-yard pass on a fade route to the corner of the end zone.
Before Gurgone’s interception, kicker Spenser Thompson-Meyers booted a 34-yard field goal to put the Green Knights on the board at the 7:31 mark of the second quarter.
Thompson-Meyers would add 38 and 21-yard field goals in the second half to end the scoring.
The St. Norbert offense took over at its own 11-yard line with 7:48 remaining in the game – 14 plays and 70 yards later, the Green Knights had their first victory of the season, as the offense held the ball until game’s end.
St. Norbert held possession for 11 minutes 47 seconds total in the fourth quarter alone.
The Green Knights racked up 358 yards of total offense, including 240 on the ground.
Bay Port grad Ben Styczynski had 50 yards on 10 carries, including a 28-yard run in the second half.
Quarterback Drew Rhodes led the victors with 99 yards rushing. He was also 14-of-22 passing for 118 yards, but he did throw the two interceptions and was sacked twice.
Jadon Sackman added 87 yards rushing, while Matt Galanopoulos led the receiving corps with six receptions for 34 yards.
Defensively, Ben Kornowski and Mike Olijnyk each had seven tackles apiece.
St. Norbert will travel to UW-Eau Claire next Saturday to take on the Blugolds in another nonconference game.
“The last time we were there was my first year as coach,” McCarty added. “It’s our first road game of the season. It’s a little different because it’s a night game, so we won’t be staying overnight. There are a lot of challenges in playing a WIAC opponent.”
Editor’s note: With his three successful field goals, Thompson-Meyers has 28 career total, which surpassed Randy Hill’s previous St. Norbert record of 26.
Aurora College: 0, 7, 0, 0 – 7
St. Norbert College: 0, 10, 6, 0 – 16