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On Thanksgiving week, area football fans should be giving thanks to the fact we’ve been able to watch Chase Vogler play quarterback for four years.
When the UMD football team lost an incredible 57-55 game at Missouri Western last Saturday, it was one of the cruelest finishes imaginable. Without question, the Bulldogs were up against a Griffon team that was their mirror-image, with an outstanding quarterback, and a tough defense, but with an explosive offense that could overrun pretty much any defensive scheme.
The Bulldogs trailed 14-6 in the first quarter, thanks to a pair of Andrew Brees field goals. They wrested a 20-14 lead at halftime. They held the lead at 28-21 after three quarters, but they were tied 35-35 at the end of regulation. The teams both drove for touchdowns in the first overtime, and again in the second overtime, inflating the score to 49-49. The rules say that if you get to a third overtime, teams must go for 2-point conversions if they score a touchdown. Central Missouri roared in for a touchdown, and made the 2-points for a 57-49 lead.
Then UMD quarterback Vogler pulled out a couple of his special, career-long magic tricks to get the Bulldogs close enough, and Austin Sikorski crashed over from the 3 for his third overtime touchdown to make it 57-55. On the mandatory 2-point conversion, Vogler obviously was going to run a sprint out himself, maybe spotting a receiver, or maybe going for the end zone himself. He took the snap, and did his little shuffle step back and to the left. But incredibly, his foot caught the heel of a blocking teammate, and in an instant, Vogler fell to the turf.
End of game, end of season, end of fabulous, record-setting career.
Chase Vogler’s legacy at UMD is secure. He will forever be recalled for his four years of heroic play at quarterback, where he was always efficient, sometimes spectacular, and often found extracting victories from what appeared to be certain defeats.
He never seemed comfortable -- more like tolerant -- of the accolades that came his way. Watching him come out of Rosemount High School in the Twin Cities to jump into the starting role as a freshman, when teammate and fellow-senior Jon Lynch injured his elbow in the second game and was out for the season. Vogler took over, and his ability forced itself to the surface game after game. He became the first true freshman to start at quarterback in 47 years, and led the Bulldogs to a 10-0 conference title, and an 11-2 overall record.
He ran the ball so well that he didn’t need to pass much, that I was curious whether coach Bob Nielson thought Vogler would be good enough, or did he plan to recruit another quarterback who might be a better passer. “Chase is not a great passer, but he is a great athlete,” said Nielson at the time. “We can make him a better passer, but you can’t make someone a better athlete.”
Nielson was right, and Vogler took UMD on a 15-0 odyssey in 2010, winning the Bulldogs their second NCAA Division II championship in three years. As a junior, Vogler and the Bulldogs went 11-3, in something close to a miracle finish, when repeatedly they would pull off narrow escapes to win, right on into the playoffs. Quarterbacks tend to get too much credit when teams win, but invariably, Vogler was making decisions at the line of scrimmage on numerous pivotal plays that led directly to victories.
Vogler’s four years produced incredible numbers. Vogler rushed for 184 yards and two touchdowns in 29 carries, and was 14-20 passing for 195 yards, for a game total of 379 yards. That puts his four-year tally at 2,903 yards rushing, passing Corey Veech to place fifth all-time in UMD’s record book. He gained 2,307 yards more passing, and he moved up to No. 2 behind Ted Schlafke for total yards with 10,480. His final record, in 52 games started, is 46-6 -- and three of the six losses came in NCAA DII playoff games, meaning he was 39-3 in four regular seasons.
That’s why the ending was so cruel. A slight trip, and Vogler might have regained his footing; he might have stumbled a couple of steps and found a way to pitch the ball to Sikorski. But he fell immediately, down flat, and had to end his fantastic career watching the ecstatic Griffons run past him to their bench for a wild celebration.
Classy as usual, Vogler said he might have tripped over his center’s foot, and yes, it was a disappointing way to end the season. Missouri Western coach Jerry Partridge said: “That kid is one of the very best quarterbacks I’ve eve coached against. That’s why they won a national title a couple years ago.”
Bob Nielson said: “If there’s a better playmaker in Division II football, I haven’t seen him.”
By the way, Nielson was right on about Vogler three years ago, too. He made Vogler a better passer, but nobody needed to make him a better athlete.
The UMD volleyball team had the benefit of competing in the first Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference meet last weekend. It’s a benefit because the NSIC is the strongest volleyball league in DII, and UMD joins Concordia of St. Paul and Southwest State as the big three in the conference. UMD beat Concordia in Duluth early in the season, and Southwest State beat UMD. On the final regular-season weekend, Concordia beat Southwest, to leave all three tied for the title. When they decided who would be No. 1 seed, it was Concordia, so the conference meet was held at the St. Paul campus.
The Bulldogs flashed their usual force in the first round, beating Winona State in three sets. But in the semifinals, UMD was beaten by Southwest State, also in three sets, and came home. Surprisingly, Southwest State then beat Confordia for the playoff title, the first home loss suffered by Concordia all season.
When the NCAA Division II seedings were delivered Sunday night, Concordia held on to the No. 1 seed in the region, with Southwest No. 2. UMD (28-4) is No. 5, and must open against No. 4 Central Missouri (26-6) in the first round, which will be next Thursday (November 29). If the Bulldogs can win that match, they would probably run smack into Southwest State at the Central Regional, while Concordia is in the opposite bracket.
The interesting twist on the Central Region is that it will be held -- guess where? -- right back at Concordia of St. Paul. So right after beating Concordia on its floor, Southwest State must go right back there and try to win two rounds to get the chance to do it again. And UMD’s proud and talented Bulldogs are in perfect position to cruise right back down Interstate 35 and foul up those plans of a rematch.
HOME AND AWAY
We had an idea that this may be a tough rebuilding season for both the UMD men’s and women’s hockey teams. It’s been more than tough for the men, who split with both Ohio State and Notre Dame to open the season, then moved into WCHA play where the Bulldogs lost and tied at home against Wisconsin, then lost twice at Nebraska-Omaha, before going to Grand Forks and tying and losing against North Dakota -- the team formerly known as Fighting Sioux.
That leaves the Bulldogs 0-4-2 in league play, and it looks odd to see UMD at the bottom of the league standings. Proves how spoiled we all became the last four years, during the “Jack Connolly Era.” This weekend, the Bulldogs return to AMSOIL Arena for the first time in a month, to face St. Cloud State. The Huskies, by the way, are on an upsurge from their own rebuilding, and stand 4-2 in league play after splitting with North Dakota and taking last weekend off.
The UMD women lost sparkplug winger Audrey Cournoyer, a senior who has decided to retire from playing with some chronic back pain that won’t go away. But the Bulldogs got things together to sweep a pair of 4-1 victories at St. Cloud State last weekend, rising to 4-5-1 in league play with a trip to North Dakota this weekend.
BCS MUST GO
The Bowl Championship Series might be interesting, but we once again are being insulted by the clear prejudice of the voters for the Southeast Conference. For the past decade, the SEC has been the best college football league in the country, so ESPN has hitched its prodigious influence to it and shamelessly promotes the SEC teams at every opportunity.
Recall that a week ago, Alabama was No. 1, with Oregon or Kansas State No. 2 and No. 3, and Notre Dame No. 4. The fact that all four were undefeated stirred up the obvious attraction a four-team playoff could be this year -- say, Notre Dame vs. Alabama, and Oregon vs. Kansas State, with the winners to meet for the crown.
But Alabama was beaten, quite soundly, by Texas A & M two Saturdays ago. Last Saturday, I wore out my channel changer trying to watch both Oregon against Stanford and K-State against Baylor. The Baylor Bears put it all together for a stunning 52-24 victory over Kansas State’s previously unbeaten outfit. Then Stanford, an outstanding defensive team, found a way to harness Oregon’s explosive Blur Offense running attack and caught the Ducks 14-14, and beat them 17-14 in overtime.
Notre Dame, which beat Wake Forest, remains undefeated and rightfully took over the No. 1 slot in the national polls and the BCS ranking. But here’s where the bias comes in. Alabama lost to a great upset bid to Texas A&M, but now vaults up to No. 2 after winning 49-0 over West Carolina. (West Carolina?) Then Georgia (10-1) moves up to No. 3 after winning 45-15 over Georgia Southern (Georgia Southern?) What’s all this garbage about the grueling SEC schedules? Meanwhile, Florida wins 23-0 over Jacksonville State (Jacksonville State?) and rises to No. 4 in the BCS picture, while Oregon, an overtime loser to a Stanford team that was by far better than any of the other top teams played last weekend, drops to No. 5, and Kansas State, caught by surprise by a potent Baylor outfit, drops to No. 6.
If that’s not enough evidence of prejudice among the SEC Kool-Aid drinkers, both Alabama and Georgia got first-place votes in the coaches poll, ahead of Notre Dame. Now, I don’t think the Fighting Irish are the best college football team in the country, but they remain undefeated while the others have all stumbled, so they deserve the No. 1 slot. For now. I think Notre Dame my fall this Saturday, at Southern California, even though the Trojans were ambushed by another explosive team, UCLA, in a 38-28 shootout last Saturday.
Oregon faces another huge game, against arch-rival and No.15 Oregon State this Saturday. Alabama and Georgia, the two SEC darlings of the voters, both have “rivalry games” too, because Alabama faces Auburn and Georgia plays Georgia Tech. Now, Georgia Tech is a capable 6-5, but the Engineers play in the Atlantic Coast Conference, not the SEC. And the Alabama-Auburn game is usually a great game, but this season, Auburn is 0-7 and in last place in Alabama’s West Division of the SEC. While the guys at ESPN will try to fan that Alabama-Auburn game to a tube-watching frenzy, and they will sing the Crimson Tide’s glory after they win the game, but don’t be fooled: The oddsmakers have Alabama as an early 31 1/2-point favorite!
I’ve said before that I enjoy watching Oregon play more than any other team, but I was objectively impressed with the great game plan and execution of Stanford in taking down the Ducks. My hope, then, is that Alabama and Georgia find a way to lose before playing each other in the SEC championship game, where one of them will have to lose, just to see how much it will take before the Ducks (and Kansas State) climb back into consideration. In my little campaign to suggest that this season, the Pac-12 has more elite teams than the SEC, by the way, keep an eye on Stanford playing UCLA Saturday.