Football fumbling their way through the season

With four weeks left of the regular season, the Hamline football team is fighting for their reputation after a devastating loss to College of St. Scholastica.

PJ Stebbings, Sports Reporter

One month ago, the Hamline football team was 2–0 heading into the bye week and feeling extremely optimistic about the 2022 season. Four games later, the narrative has changed. 

Hamline’s football program has not had a winning season in over 10 years, and although Hamline has a long history of excellence in sports, the football team has not lived up to expectations for many years.

Entering MIAC play, the Pipers had defeated non-conference opponents Crown College and University of Minnesota-Morris. Hamline’s offense had been firing on all cylinders, scoring 73 points the first two games. The defense was able to keep the Pipers in the game as well, allowing only 35 points and forcing seven turnovers against the two Upper Midwest Athletic Conference (UMAC) teams. 

Hamline hosted Carleton College in week three for Homecoming to kick off the MIAC schedule and the Pipers were full of confidence heading into the game. Hamline returned 18 seniors this year, with six of them being fifth-years due to COVID-19 eligibility, so there is no lack of experience on the team. 

Before the Homecoming game, senior captains Sam Fritz and Eli Danielson voiced their confidence for the upcoming season in an interview with the Oracle.

Following losses to Carleton, St. Scholastica, Bethel and now Gustavus Adolphus by a combined score of 181–75, the optimism is no longer there. 

The one competitive game of the four came against the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth, where the Pipers fell 43–42 on a last second field goal which gave the Saints their first-ever MIAC win. This is especially troubling for the Pipers since Hamline was able to beat Scholastica twice last year and coming into the game, Scholastica had only won one game in two years, going 0–8 the year before.

The Hamline defense has been especially outmatched in MIAC play, allowing 554 yards of total offense to Carleton, 576 yards to Scholastica, 365 yards to Bethel and 536 yards to Gustavus Adolphus. The run defense, lead by seniors Sam Fritz, Chip Kindt, Max Fick, Evan Miller and Carson Reinard, has been solid at times but the secondary and pass defense has been a weak spot for the Pipers all season. 

Hamline’s defense is a “bend but don’t break” style of defense, where they rely on turnovers and key third down stops to get off the field. However, since conference play has started, the defensive unit just has not been able to generate the key stops to get themselves off of the field. With the exception of junior safety Ryan Kouri, who has 4 interceptions, the back end has been full of coverage let downs on third down and red zone situations, which makes it extremely difficult to win games in a tough conference like the MIAC.

Offensively, the unit runs through junior QB/WR Charlie Wilson. Wilson was a MIAC all-conference selection last year and has continued to dominate this season. Through the first six games, Wilson has accounted for 61 receptions, 673 yards and five touchdowns. He also plays a big role in the running game, rushing 20 times for 170 yards and two TDs, largely coming out of the wildcat formation. 

Sophomore quarterback Alejandro Villanueva has also been solid for Hamline, completing over 60% of his passes and taking care of the ball with only four turnovers. He’s also been a threat with his legs, rushing for 195 yards and four TDs. Despite the bright spots offensively, the offense has sputtered in three of its four MIAC contests, scoring only 33 points in the three MIAC games not including the game against Scholastica. 

Third down has been the killer for Hamline offensively, as they are converting at a less than 50% clip. Opposing defenses have learned to key on Charlie Wilson in crucial down and distance situations and forced other players to step up. Hamline has not been able to execute consistently offensively when Wilson is not able to get the ball.

After a strong start to the year, Hamline has come down to earth and seems to be in for a long rest of the season. The team has reportedly been dealing with injuries, internal conflicts and division amongst the team, which is never a good indicator of good team chemistry. Many arguments have broken out on the sidelines during these tough games and spectators have witnessed players openly blaming each other and coaches for things not going their way. 

Obviously going 0–4 in conference play while getting blown out in three of the four contests is extremely frustrating, but one would like to see the team handle their frustration in a more positive way. 

Hamline is not out of the fire yet, as they have another tough stretch of games upcoming. Hamline hosts Augsburg and Macalester the next two weeks for rivalry games with trophies attached: The Hammer and The Bucket. They then travel to the Dakota border to play at Concordia-Moorhead before MIAC Championship Week. 

It will be interesting to see how the Pipers respond the next couple of weeks. The team is full of seniors and with the season coming to a close, we will see if they are able to turn around their final few games of their college football careers and leave a legacy behind.