Rivalries rarely reach the level of historic magnitude St. Olaf has managed to achieve with its crosstown competitor, Carleton College. Therefore, it should come to nobody’s surprise that, as the game clock suspensefully entered the final minute of play during the 2017 Cereal Bowl last Saturday, Oct. 21, the outcome remained stressfully uncertain.
It was a roller-coaster of a game containing six lead changes, during which the Oles managed to reclaim a marginal 29-26 advantage with 9:30 remaining in the final quarter of regulation thanks to a 31-yard gem of a touchdown pass from Jack Goldstein ’18 to Gonzalo Piera ’20, the latter of whom was awarded the MIAC Special Teams Player of the Week for his efforts. However, Carleton didn’t take long to respond with a threatening drive of its own. Moving at a torrential pace, the Knights advanced the ball 60 yards in under a minute, resulting in a 4th-and-8 at St. Olaf’s 17-yard line. For St. Olaf, one high stakes redzone play either way could potentially dictate the difference between victorious elation and crushing defeat.
Max Karpinske ’20 and Ole defense weren’t willing to let the latter become reality. Already having broken up Carleton’s previous pass attempt on 3rd down, Karpinske immediately replicated his clutch playmaking ability to swat away the Knights’ final, heartstopping shot at the end zone. It sealed the victory for St. Olaf and secured possession of the Goat Trophy, the statue awarded to the victor of the yearly bout, for the fourth consecutive season. Also, the eagle statue in downtown Northfield will face the Hill yet again, as is tradition for the winner of the contest.
Despite being soundly beaten in time of possession (25:10 to Carleton’s 35:50), Goldstein managed to keep the contest within reach with two efficient scores en route to 324 passing yards and three touchdowns during the game’s duration. Breakout running back Khayleb Willis ’20 continued to effectively balance the offensive attack, producing 151 rushing yards, his third consecutive game with 100+ yards on the ground, punctuated by an emphatic 67-yard breakaway rushing touchdown that gave the Oles their first score of the second half.
Despite frustration stemming from missed opportunities during a slow first half, first-year head coach James Kilian witnessed a tangible shift towards a more relaxed atmosphere starting in the third quarter, allowing the Oles to gain momentum.
“Carleton did a great job with their offensive game plan and kept the ball for the majority of the first half,” Kilian said. “This kept our offense off the field, making every possession important. We failed early on a turnover and we were stopped on our goal line on 4th down on our next possession, but we were able to capitalize on our next couple possessions with touchdowns.”
“Most of our adjustments in the first half were just our guys settling down and play the way they know how. Offensively, we were able to take advantage of some mismatches in the secondary and turn those into some long pass plays.”
The triumphant four-peat elevates the Oles’ all-time mark against Carleton to 53-43-1, including victories in 18 of the rivals’ last 21 meetings. For Kilian, these records and the rivalry take a back seat in favor of utmost respect for opponents and insulated introspection on the extensive road towards building a championship team possessing not merely great athletes, but also well-rounded people.
“Every win is important, but in our program we do not talk about opponents,” Kilian said. “Each week we focus on ourselves and being the best St. Olaf we can be. We respect each opponent and the tradition that comes with playing our cross-town rivalry, but that is where it stops for us. Lots of people talk about hating Carleton or any other school, but to us, hate is just another form of envy, and we do not envy anyone. We focus our energies on our team and what we can do to improve and are not concerned with others or outside opinion.”
The victory over Carleton is the culmination of a newly balanced offense and a defense that does just enough to keep the Oles within striking distance in close conference contests. Under Kilian’s guidance, St. Olaf is playing its best football in years, now having won three consecutive contests for the first time since 2012, and, with a 3-2 record in conference play, have equalled their victory totals against MIAC opponents during the last three years combined. Looking forward, Kilian’s philosophy remains steadfast – if it isn’t broken, no need to fix it.
“It really is just more of the same,” Kilian said. “Success is not a secret formula. We ask our guys what outcomes they want to achieve and then based on those outcomes, what responses are necessary to achieve these desired outcomes? We control the response and that response can influence the outcome. The one thing we cannot control are the events. Events make up a number of things – opponents being one – that we have no control over; therefore, we do not focus on events. This makes the process simple for our guys to follow. I want to commend our players for buying into a new culture and embracing the culture that we are establishing. The success we are having is a direct reflection on the way our guys have responded to a new culture and new process.”