RIVER FALLS, Wis. – Taylor Nelson threw for a career-high 398 yards, Brad Vogel scored three touchdowns and the Simpson football team made big plays in key situations in a 31-22 win over UW-River Falls on Saturday afternoon.
Nelson and Vogel hooked up on touchdown passes of 42, 37 and 22 yards and Nelson added a 72-yard completion to Billy Weathers as the Storm (1-0) survived some tense moments to win their first season-opener since 2008.
"Any time you win the opener, you have to feel good about it," fifth-year head coach Jim Glogowski said. "It gives us momentum and confidence. Our guys played hard and gave tremendous effort. [UW-River Falls] is a big, physical team that's seen the mountaintop in [national champion] UW-Whitewater. We are very happy with a win today."
Trailing 10-7 in the second quarter, Simpson had its back to the goal line as the Falcons (0-1) were in the midst of a 70-yard drive and knocking on the door with 2nd and goal from the 1.
Ryan Kusilek's second down pass was deflected and an alert Ben Borland snagged the ball off the stomach of a Falcons player for an interception, ending the threat.
Four plays later the momentum switch was complete, as on 3rd and 6 from the 6, Nelson connected on a 72-yard pass play to Weathers. A screen pass to Vogel on the next play resulted in a 22-yard touchdown, turning what could have been a 17-7 deficit into a 14-10 lead.
Vogel caught six passes for a career-high 141 yards and carried once for 19 yards.
"It was a classic first game," Glogowski said. "Both teams made some mistakes. But what I loved was that we played a lot of guys, we played with passion and most importantly, we responded when we had to."
A touchdown run by Michael Chia extended the lead to 21-10 and what appeared would be a comfortable halftime lead.
But Vogel mishandled a punt on the ensuing drive, allowing Kuselik to plunge in from a yard out to make the score 21-16 at the half after failing on the point-after attempt.
Kuselik went 21-for-35 for 225 yards through the air, splitting time with Caleb Hanson who went 11 of 19 for 119. John Wahlstrom made 12 catches for 112 yards and Brad Beeskow carried 12 times for 64 yards for the Falcons.
Logan Klein tacked on a 24-yard field goal in the third quarter to make the score 24-16 but the Falcons responded with a touchdown run by Malcom Wilson early in the fourth. Trailing by two, River Falls attempted a two-point conversion but safety Grant Focht broke up the pass.
Vogel dealt the final blow when he split the seam on a 42-yard touchdown reception with 6:20 left, giving the Storm a nine-point edge.
After closing the 2011 season 4-1, Simpson has now won 5 of its last 6 dating back to last year.
"We picked up where we left off in terms of playing hard and trying to execute," Glogowski said. "We were rusty but threw the ball well and adjusted well defensively throughout the game."
Despite throwing for nearly 400 yards, Simpson struggled to move the ball on the ground, finishing with -1 yard rushing due in large-part to five sacks against Nelson.
The Storm also lost 3 of 4 fumbles, but made enough big plays to offset the mistakes.
Taylor Rogers didn't find the endzone on Saturday but did catch seven passes for 114 yards, including a clutch 40-yard grab on the sidelines which set up Klein's third-quarter field goal.
Defensively, Simpson sacked UWRF quarterbacks four times. Linebacker Mark Cronin had one of those sacks and two tackles for loss, finishing with 10 tackles. Corey Sterling made eight takles and broke up a pass and Borland broke up two passes to go along with his pick. Scott Vierow had a sack and a forced fumble.
The Storm open the home schedule Saturday, Sept. 8 when they host Gustavus Adolphus at Buxton Stadium. The Gusties were off on opening week.
Kickoff is set for 1 p.m.