Bright lights, big city, ready for primetime

Hamline football comes out of the gate swinging to a 2-0 start, but not quite up to the task of defeating the Gustavus Adolphus Gusties in code red game.


Cole Mayer

Senior Austin Duncan breaks a tackle to move the chains forward in the third quarter of the Piper football game against Gustavus last Saturday. The Pipers lost 35-42 and will play Saint Johns this Saturday at 1pm.

Paul Patane, Sports Editor

It’s a familiar story. The Pipers dominated UM-Morris and Macalester in nonconference play, but stumbled against one of the premiere MIAC teams. The result: Hamline is off to a 2-1 start and retains possession of the coveted Paint Bucket, but the team came up on the losing end of an offensive shootout against Gustavus, 35-42.

After battling the Gusties to a 21-28 score at the half, the Pipers went to the locker room with their heads held high while alumni members reminisced on the past with the introduction of the new Hamline Row of Honor for football and track and field. Klas Field was packed with 2,138 spectators and for the most part, they seemed optimistic, loud and stuck around for what the second half had in store.

Things unraveled in the third quarter for Hamline with a batch of mistakes and miscues which led to 14 points for Gustavus. Just when the Pipers looked down and out like they had so many times before in recent years, something clicked and the team had a swagger as they battled back with two touchdowns in the fourth quarter.

Seniors like tight end Philip Sherman have been around to see it all, and he’s noticed steady team improvement which has helped build the program up to be able to play conference powerhouses like Gustavus at a high level.

“We’ve got more weapons on offense. We’re more explosive,” Sherman said. “Our defense is vastly improved.”

Offensively, much of the recent improvement has come from a more balanced attack. In years prior, senior running back Austin Duncan, who ran for 87 yards and two touchdowns Saturday night, often had to shoulder the load. Duncan now gets to share the field with better prepared and higher caliber athletes, including junior receivers Naji El-Araby and Nick Kampa. The duo combined for 188 receiving yards and two touchdowns against the Gusties.

A new face in the offensive backfield is sophomore quarterback Kyle Johnson. Standing six foot three inches, he’s lean, athletic and likes to throw the ball downfield.

“He [Johnson] loves the deep ball, which is good. We need a deep threat because we have Austin Duncan, a record holder here, who can obviously run the ball like crazy,” said junior linebacker Jonny Nguyen, who was honored as MIAC Defensive Athlete of the Week after week one of the season.

Even though Johnson’s an underclassman, seniors have embraced their new starting quarterback.

“Everyone’s used to Kyle at this point. Kyle’s taken a pretty good lead,” Sherman said. “Kyle’s a tough guy.”

Sophomore quarterback Kyle Johnson rushes for the first down marker on Saturday, Sep. 5.
Paul Patane
Sophomore quarterback Kyle Johnson rushes for the first down marker on Saturday, Sep. 5.

Against the Gusties, Johnson completed 16 of 26 passes for 239 yards, throwing two touchdowns and an interception.

To continue making on-field improvements, Johnson understands he needs to be a leader, regardless of his underclassman status.

“I wanted to step up into a leadership role. Being a sophomore, it’s hard to do that, especially when you’ve got guys like Austin Duncan and Philip Sherman. You could feel like your voice can get drowned out being a younger guy, but as a quarterback you’re in a natural leadership role,” Johnson said.

In addition to an entertaining code red game, the Row of Honor ceremony was a unique way to honor Hamline’s past in front of the university’s current student body at the packed event. The inductees included: former multi-sport coach Kent Stahly, current track and field and cross country coach, Paul Schmaedeke, and former football coaches Dick Mulkern and Dick Tressel.

Even after a tough loss to Gustavus, there’s no doubt that this is a different Piper football team. It was hinted at when the team opened the season by annihilating UM-Morris at Klas Field on Saturday, Sep. 5, and how the team wasn’t perfect, but managed to decisively retain the Paint Bucket against Macalester on Saturday, Sep. 12.

“There’s just a different aspect of leadership this team has,” Sherman said. “The way we handled Morris is, we dominated Morris.”

Despite early season optimism, Hamline players realize what they need to do in conference play is going to be significantly more difficult than anything they faced their first couple games this season.

“MIAC is a whole different ballgame than other things,” Johnson said.

A large part of Hamline planning to compete better against MIAC opponents emphasizes special teams. The Pipers teased some of that when they recovered an onside kick against the Gusties late in the game Saturday.

“A big thing in the MIAC is special teams and how that relates to field position,” Johnson said. “We need to win that battle.”

Even though Macalester wasn’t a conference game, the players worked hard to keep the Paint Bucket on Hewitt Avenue.

Piper football players celebrate with The Bucket after their 27-10 win over Macalester on Sep. 12.
Cole Mayer
Piper football players celebrate with The Bucket after their 27-10 win over Macalester on Sep. 12.

“It was a really good game. It’s always a dog-eat-dog game when it’s Hamline versus Macalester. It’s always a game that can never just be a blowout, something always has to happen,” Nguyen said.

Defensively, players like Nguyen continue to work hard on the mental and physical aspects of the game.

“We have to stay disciplined on the defensive side,” Nguyen said. “I’m a big mental guy, I know what’s going on on the field and where to be. This year, I’m also concentrating on the run game a lot more than I did last year.”

For seniors like Sherman, there’s some pressure but he continues to work hard and is leaving it all out on the field.

“It’s the last year so you open up a little bit. I got to the point where I realized this is it,” Sherman said. “There’s a little bit of pressure, but I like that pressure and it makes me better.”

The 2-1 (0-1 MIAC) Pipers have a bye next week and will play next against another conference powerhouse, St. John’s. The two teams will play at Klas Field on Saturday, Oct. 3 with kickoff scheduled at 1pm.