ROCK ISLAND — The Augustana football team has endured some tough losses this season but maybe none more heartbreaking than Saturday's 28-27 setback to Millikin at Lindberg Stadium.
There was no question it was one of the weirdest games with three lightning delays totaling 3-hours, 25-minutes. The game that began at 1 p.m. ended at 7:20 with another gut-wrenching loss for the 1-6 Vikings, who are 1-4 in CCIW play.
Jacob Stytz, one of the most reliable kickers in the CCIW, was forced into trying a 40-yard game-winning field goal with :07.7 left after the potential winning drive had moved to the Millikin 5-yard line. A 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty moved the ball back, forcing a much tougher kick.
Stytz, who was 8-for-9 on field goals entering the game and had added two more to his season tally earlier in the afternoon, made great contact on the kick that was waved wide right by the officials with :02 left on the game clock.
Just after the third delay, Millikin (5-1, 3-1 CCIW) took its first lead of the game when first-year kicker Ben Spelman kicked his first field goal of the year, a 27-yarder with 1:01 left in the fourth.
“Credit Millikin for winning the game, and credit Millikin for doing what it did to get to that point,” said Augie coach Steve Bell. “But they did absolutely nothing to stop us from winning the game. We stopped ourselves."
It was the fourth game Augie has lost by less than a touchdown — all of those on mistakes, usually late in games.
Making it even tougher to take was that the Vikings were so close to pulling off the final-drive rally that started at the Millikin 27-yard line. Junior quarterback Luke Bleyer connected on two big passes — a 31-yarder to freshman Max Uranich and a 22-yarder to senior captain Riley Donald, who nearly broke tackles to get farther than the 5-yard line — to get the Vikings in chip-shot range for Stytz.
However, after the play, an Augie lineman was flagged for pushing down a defender late in the play.
“That was stupid,” said Bell. “I don't care what happened. I don't care what was said. … They can punch you in the face. I don't care what happened, but you can not react in that situation.”
That forced Stytz into a tougher kick after Bleyer ran a play to get the ball to the middle of the field
“That was probably one of the toughest games I've ever lost just because we had to sit in the locker room and stay mentally focused,” said Bleyer, who finished 17 of 29 passing for 194 yards with a TD despite playing with toe issues on his plant foot. “This whole game was a grind. To come out short, especially in that way, was really tough.”
Another great start had the Vikings (347 yards offense in 79 plays) out to a 10-0 lead early in the second quarter before Millikin cut the gap to 10-7 with a scoring drive just before half.
Stytz's 28-yard field goal with 11:31 in the third quarter gave Augie a 13-7 lead just before the first delay.
Three plays after that 45-minute delay, sophomore Luke Phelan blocked a punt that senior Austin Chausse picked up and returned for a 24-yard touchdown that gave Augie a 20-7 lead with 10:30 left in the third.
Millikin, which totaled 382 yards offense and won in Rock Island for the first time since 2011, answered with touchdowns on its next two possessions, but issues on the PAT kicks led to a failed run and a missed kick as Augie still led 20-19. Ryan Pitra's 5-yard TD run gave the Vikings a 27-19 lead with 9:43 left in the fourth just ahead of a 121-minute delay at 4:09 p.m.
On the second play back from that, MU quarterback Nicco Stepina beat the Augie secondary for a 27-yard TD strike to Jordan Smith. The failed two-point conversion cut Augie's lead to 27-25 just ahead of the final 39-minute delay, which bisected Millikin's drive for the field goal.