Green Knights get defensive in shutout win
By Greg Bates
DE PERE – In the first three games of the season, the St. Norbert College football team’s defense was suspect.
Allowing 37 points per contest, the Green Knights have made a complete turnaround in the last three games.
St. Norbert has outscored its opponents 131-6.
On Senior Day Oct. 26, the Green Knights held Lawrence University to 67 total yards and two first downs in a 41-0 victory at Schneider Stadium.
“What stood out to me was how relentless we are pursuing near the football,” said St. Norbert coach Dan McCarty, who is now 5-0 career versus Lawrence. “That’s something we pride ourselves on and something we chart and watch on film.”
Defensive lineman Blake Olejniczak finished the day with a team-high five tackles, 2 ½ for loss and a ½ sack.
“Everyone sticking to their technique, being physical and finishing every play,” Olejniczak said. “Getting 11 guys to the ball every play.”
Lawrence punted on 12 of its 13 drives in the game and didn’t tally a first down until 38 minutes into the game.
The second time it moved the chains came via a St. Norbert defensive penalty for a horse collar.
Surrendering two first downs was a feat that hasn’t been accomplished by a Green Knights’ defense since allowing one to St. Joseph’s (Indiana) during a game on Nov. 17, 1946.
“Last week, we gave up three first downs, so we’re improving,” McCarty joked. “It shows the work our staff puts in preparing these guys, putting them in the right position and then our guys executing.”
With the defense playing its best, the St. Norbert offense had plenty of opportunities to run up the score.
The Green Knights amassed 521 total yards with a balance of 289 passing and 232 rushing.
When St. Norbert lined up for its first offensive play of the game, wide receiver Samuel Staehling – who last week broke the program record for touchdown catches in a career – was being covered by one cornerback with no safety over the top.
It remained that way the majority of the game, and the Lawrence defense paid the price.
As Staehling got to the line of scrimmage, his mind was racing about the possibilities.
“It’s a great opportunity to have a chance to get the ball,” said Staehling, who came into the game averaging 20.8 yards per catch, tops in all divisions of college football. “Coach realized that and had a lot of plays designed with the one-on-one. That’s like taking candy from a kid.”
Staehling had seven catches for 215 yards with two touchdowns in the opening half.
He caught a 51-yard bomb from Ben Kohl and a 9-yard score from Gage McClanahan to put his team up 21-0 in the second quarter.
“In our base package, we had a game plan to put him at the No. 2 receiver, which he hasn’t played all year,” McCarty said. “We thought we had some matchup opportunities there, which we did, and took advantage of. In short-yardage, if teams are going to pack the box and leave him out on the perimeter one-on-one, we’re going to be taking shots.”
Staehling’s big game put him into the record books, becoming the first St. Norbert player to have three, 200-yard receiving games in a career.
Up 27-0 at halftime after scoring on five of its first seven drives, the Green Knights (4-2 overall, 3-0 Midwest Conference North Division) played a field-position battle in the third quarter.
Buried deep in its own territory, Lawrence (1-6, 0-3) had a three-and-out.
Matt Galanopoulos fielded a punt at the opposing 43-yard line, made a couple of moves and found a convoy of blockers down the left sideline and all the way into the end zone.
It was Galanopoulos’ second score of the game after a 15-yard touchdown catch in the opening quarter.
Kohl capped the scoring by rumbling 59 yards to boost St. Norbert’s rushing stats.
Staehling was held without a catch in the second half and finished 70 yards shy of the St. Norbert record for yards in one game.
The Green Knights, who stuck to the running game in the final two quarters with the big lead, had two complete passes and nine passing yards in the second half.
“Honestly, it was not our best day,” Staehling said. “We were hoping to put up a few more points, but we’re definitely going to use this to improve for the next one.”
Olejniczak noted the defensive effort gives the unit momentum heading into next Saturday’s road game against Macalester College.
“We’re going to keep getting better every day and see what happens,” he said.