St. Norbert’s Pedersen saves the day in historic win
By Rich Palzewic
DE PERE – With the game seemingly slipping away, St. Norbert College football player Kevin Pedersen made the biggest play of the game when it mattered most.
The junior Pedersen’s pass breakup in the end zone on the final play of the game preserved the Green Knights’ 27-21 non-conference victory over UW-Eau Claire at Schneider Stadium Sept. 14.
Driving for the go-ahead score late in the game, Eau Claire quarterback Josiah Johnson rolled to his left and threw a pass to the left corner of the end zone, only to see Pedersen knock the attempt away as time expired.
“When I looked at the clock, I saw there were 7 seconds left,” said Pedersen, who is from Cary, Illinois. “I said, ‘This is it – this is the play.’ We studied them all week, and I had a good idea of what they’d be running. Their tight end ran the drag [pattern] like I thought he would.”
In addition to his pass breakup, Pedersen ended the game with three tackles from his linebacker position.
“I thought, ‘Oh boy, it’s our first home game – I can’t let this one slip out of my hands,” Pedersen said. “The victory was definitely a team effort. We had a lot of great preparation for this game.”
The win for St. Norbert was its first over a Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) foe since a 25-7 win over UW-Platteville on Nov. 5, 1983, at Minahan Stadium in De Pere.
It was also the first football win for a sitting Midwest Conference (MWC) member over the WIAC since 1935.
The Green Knights joined the MWC for football in 1984.
“I’m so proud of this team for bouncing back from not one of our best performances last week,” said St. Norbert head coach Dan McCarty. “The guys responded today, but there is still a lot we have to improve on. We left a lot out there, but we made the plays when we needed to.”
St. Norbert led 27-14 early in the fourth quarter, only to see the Blugolds mount their comeback.
The Green Knights (1-1 overall) got off to a perfect start when defensive back Joe Peterson intercepted Eau Claire quarterback Jonathan Malueg on the first play from scrimmage.
After St. Norbert kicker Brady Wodack missed a 39-yard field goal following the interception, Peterson picked off his second pass to stop Eau Claire’s second drive.
The senior intercepted his third ball early in the fourth quarter in the end zone with the Green Knights leading 21-14.
“Joe would be the first to tell you he didn’t have the greatest game in week one,” McCarty said. “As a senior captain for him to respond like this, shows his mental fortitude. In his last two games on this field, he’s had six interceptions total. If he can keep that average going, we will be okay.”
After Austin Belot rumbled 33 yards for the Blugolds with 3:18 left in the opening quarter for a 7-0 lead, St. Norbert’s Gage McClanahan relieved starting quarterback Freddy Poorman.
McClanahan, a graduate student from Division II Howard Payne in Texas, finished 13-18 for 254 yards with three touchdowns.
McClanahan was 8-11 in the first half for 161 yards, including a 90-yard touchdown toss to Samuel Staehling with 2:04 remaining in the first half.
His first touchdown pass of the half came a minute into the second quarter when he hit Matt Galanopoulos from 19 yards out in the left corner of the end zone.
Poorman entered back into the game to start the second half before McClanahan came back in later in the third quarter.
“The plan was to get McClanahan into the game no matter what,” McCarty said. “We didn’t have a set plan as to when – there’s no quarterback controversy. Each of our two guys brings a different skill set to the game. He stepped up and made some good throws.”
Asked if the two-quarterback rotation would continue for the immediate future, McCarty was non-committal.
“We will see,” McCarty said. “We have to watch the film – each guy performed well out here, but I think there’s a lot more each can do. Unless one guy is head and shoulders above the other one, we’re going to keep rolling with two guys.”
Poorman finished 4-10 for 48 yards with an interception.
McClanahan also threw a pick.
St. Norbert’s Jake Berken, a Green Bay Preble graduate, intercepted Malueg 5 minutes into the second half and went 31 yards untouched for a score to make it 21-7.
Following the Poorman interception late in the third, Belot tallied his second score of the game for Eau Claire to pull the game within seven.
After the third Peterson interception, the McClanahan-to-Staehling connection hooked up for a 38-yard score with 10:41 remaining.
With the point-after attempt being missed, the Green Knights led 27-14.
The Blugolds scored with 4:40 left to pull within a score before Pedersen’s pass breakup saved the game for St. Norbert.
A week after hauling in 10 balls for 203 yards, Staehling grabbed another five balls for 172 yards.
Staehling’s 36 career touchdown receptions put him one away from matching Mike Whitehouse’s school record.
The Green Knights have a week off before traveling to Monmouth Sept. 28.
UW-Eau Claire: 7 0 7 7 – 21
St. Norbert: 0 14 7 6 – 27