Viking football season ends in first round of NCAA playoffs

Viking football season ends in first round of NCAA playoffs
Logan Swanson and Grayson Diepenbrock plow into the backfield and stop Bemidji State’s running back during their playoff game on Nov. 20.

The season that saw the Viking’s first overall conference championship in 62 years comes to an end in the first round of the NCAA Division II playoffs, as Augustana lost to Bemidji State 28-24 on Nov. 20.

The Vikings end the year 9-3, as the NSIC and NSIC South Champions, with nine All-NSIC First Team players and three All-NSIC Second Team players.

“Watching boys become men is a real joy,” coach Jerry Olszewski said. “This group of seniors never paused. Some programs maybe pulled apart during COVID, ours galvanized. It’s one of those things you’d like to ride as long as you can, because these kids are special.”

Quarterback Kyle Saddler threw a five-yard touchdown to Logan Uttecht to complete a 12-play, 66-yard drive that opened up the third quarter. After stopping the Beavers on the defensive side of the ball, the Vikings got the ball back and went 87 yards over four plays as running back Kyle Graham scored on a 35-yard rush to give Augustana the 24-21 advantage with 4:57 left in the third quarter.

“I think we ran the ball with some good efficiency which opens up some things for the pass game,” Olszewski said. “Same game plan we had going into the game, we just didn’t execute it quite as well in the first half.”

At the start of the fourth quarter, Bemidji State forced Augustana to a turnover on downs, stopping the Vikings on a 4th-and-1. The Beaver offense came back on the next drive to go 68 yards in five plays. Quarterback Sam McGath punched in the go-ahead score with a two-yard rush.

The score would remain 28-24 as the clock dwindled to all zeroes.

Augustana outgained Bemidji State 433-413 and dominated the ground game 201-65. Running back Jarod Epperson ended the game with 154 yards rushing. He concluded 2021 with 1,051 yards, a top-10 rushing season in Augustana history.

Through the air, Saddler threw for 232 yards and a pair of touchdowns as he concludes his career with 10,380 yards passing and 91 touchdowns.

“The program has created a culture of inviting freshmen in and creating a family, and when you look at this senior class, it’s something special,” Saddler said. “I’m 100% sure that next year the seniors are going to be the same way and set the culture of the program like that.”

Uttecht led all Augustana receivers catching the ball seven times for 96 yards and the touchdown. Defensively, Augustana was led by T.J. Liggett with seven tackles and a pass breakup.

Augustana’s nine wins are tied for the second-most in a single season, which has occurred three times. Two of those have come under Olszewski.

After moving on to the second round of the playoffs, Bemidji State lost to the Colorado School of Mines 55-6 in Golden, Colorado, on Nov. 27. The Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference no longer has any teams competing for the NSIC DII Football Championship.

“We had a two year senior season,” Logan Swanson said. “We got to build even more relationships with each other and have even more fun for the game that we love, and I think that’s truly special. Yes, today is a sad day, but it’s also a happy day knowing that we did what we could for our program.”