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Grinnell football defeats Lawrence for first time since 2015

The Grinnell pioneers crowd around head coach Brent Barnes in the wake of their first conference win. Contributed by Ted Schultz.

By: Malcolm Galpern Levin


In their season opener at home this past Saturday, Sep. 18, the Grinnell College football team took down Lawrence University 35-28 in an overtime thriller — marking the team’s first victory in more than 1,000 days.

“We felt pretty good going into the game both as coaches and I think our players felt very confident,” said head coach Brent Barnes. “The first three quarters expressed that pretty quickly.”

The team started the game off strong, scoring a touchdown on their very first drive down the field.

“Going on to score [on the] first drive was very important for the energy and atmosphere of the game and it got our defense going as well and they came out and got a stop right after,” said quarterback Grayson Woodhouse `24.

Grinnell continued to be efficient offensively and defensively, scoring two more touchdowns before the end of the half and holding Lawrence to just one touchdown. At halftime, Grinnell led 21-7.

Wide receiver Clayton Burton `23 says a big difference in the game was that Grinnell was the team that attacked offensively whereas they usually are forced to play from behind and catch up.

After a scoreless third quarter for both teams, running back Danny Carter `22 scored early in the fourth quarter off of a 7-yard run, giving Grinnell a sizable lead of 28-7. Lawrence University responded with its own offensive attack, scoring 21 straight points off three touchdowns, tying the game at 28 apiece and forcing the overtime period.

Coach Barnes says the team’s struggles in the final quarter are a result of fatigue and some complacency.

“We were on the field for 80 snaps on offense and that’s a lot for a team that just doesn’t have a ton of subs,” said Barnes. “We probably got a little bit complacent, felt that it was, you know, all but in the bag, and it’s not, not in college football.”

During overtime, Grinnell had first possession of the ball and executed quickly, scoring a touchdown on the first play off a 25-yard pass from Woodhouse to Saia.

The formation used to score in overtime, named ‘Wildcat’, is a new play that the team unveiled against Lawrence University and centers around wide receiver Dustin Saia being in motion before the snap.

“Just hitting that play, I think, all of a sudden all the energy from the first three quarters kind of came back like, okay, we got this, let’s go play defense for a series or two and get out of here,” said Barnes.

Lawrence University responded with a drive of their own and managed to push the ball to the 5-yard line before Adam Khater `23 disrupted a pass to the endzone on a fourth and goal play, solidifying the team’s first win since Nov. 10, 2018.

Following the final defensive stop, players, coaches and fans alike rushed onto the field to celebrate the historic victory in what Barnes describes as a “magical moment.”

“It was a lot of emotion on that field after the game among everybody; coaches, players, parents—everybody who’s kind of seen this over the last two to three years, kind of the culmination of something,” said Barnes.

“I saw one coach throw his headset in the air and then everybody kind of just stormed the field and I saw the students storm the field as well and we were all kind of just excited to, you know, break that streak that we had of losing games,” said Carter.

The team’s struggles in recent years from having their 2019 season cancelled due to injuries and the 2020 season postponed due to COVID-19, make the win that much more meaningful.

“People aren’t always super excited about the football program so it’s nice to see everybody kind of come together and we definitely felt the support,” said Burton. “It was kind of surreal and even after the game we laid on the field for a little while kind of just taking it all in.”

The last time the Grinnell football team defeated Lawrence University was Nov. 14, 2015. This win also marks the team’s first win in the Midwest Conference since Oct. 25, 2014.

“To be able to pull that out was a testament to their, again, their heart, their belief and their faith when at times in this journey over the last two years, maybe that wasn’t necessarily warranted, they just believed, and it was rewarded with a victory on Saturday,” said Barnes.

Still, the team feels there is room for improvement. Burton says the key is maintaining a steady mental state throughout the game so the team can perform consistently.

“It’s a team that hasn’t won in a while and maybe needs to learn how to win. … Giving up 21 points in the fourth quarter is not what you want to do but in the end [we] trusted the defense and the defense came out and got the biggest stop of the year,” said Woodhouse.

Players identified the team’s strong sense of camaraderie as a primary reason for their success thus far.

“The whole team is always close, there’s no divide among first years and fourth years, you know, everybody is just teammates, there’s no hierarchy,” said Carter.

Burton agreed, saying “It’s this collective like buying that hey, we’re all in this together, no one person is more important than another person.”

Heading into the rest of the season, the team is feeling confident in their ability to produce and win games.

“We control whether we win or lose now,” said Burton. “I think we actually have a chance to beat some other conference teams this year which is reassuring.”

The team is scheduled for a bye this weekend and will play Beloit College on Saturday, Oct. 2.

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