New faces impress at Augustana football spring game
The Vikings are showing progress on offense and defense despite many injury absences, which should lend itself to stiff competition for playing time in the fall.
SIOUX FALLS — Augustana wrapped up spring practice with the annual spring game on Saturday at Jim Heinitz Field, and there was a lot to like on both sides of the ball in what ended a 22-20 win for the Vikings offense.
Augustana spent much of the spring season missing or resting injured starters, which gave them the opportunity to take a long look at many players looking to earn bigger roles for the 2023 season, and they were even more cautious for the game than they were during the prior practices, sitting 16 full or part time returning starters.
Still, head coach Jerry Olszewski saw plenty of positives on both sides of the ball. He admitted things were slow going in the early stages of the spring, but once they found a groove the improvement was pronounced, and it culminated in a game on Saturday that saw big plays from the offense and defense, from returning players and new ones, and showed promise to the impressive crowd that turned out on a breezy day to watch a team looking to build on last year's 7-4 campaign.
"I just told the guys that our goal was to end the spring better than we were Game 11 last year, and considering the guys who weren't out here today, I think we're a better team than we were then," Olszewski said. "It was a really good spring. A new offense, the stuff we added in on defense — we refined a lot of things as we went along and are in a pretty good place going into the summer."
On offense the Vikings were playing with mostly their second-team line, but there were still instances where they moved the ball effectively on the ground. Former Brandon standout Tate Johnson capped off a strong spring with an impressive performance in the game.
And at quarterback, the competition between senior Casey Bauman and junior Thomas Scholten did not get especially clearer. While the 6-foot-7 Bauman (in his second year in the program after transferring from Montana State) seems to have the upper hand in the race, Scholten was sharper on Saturday, directing multiple scoring drives and delivering accurate downfield throws even amid a stiff wind. He found his brother, Sam Scholten, for a 15-yard touchdown pass, one of a handful of connections between the siblings. And Bauman, after a rough start to the day, seemed to heat up after Scholten got going.
"That's what you want, it's great to see," Olszewski said. "There's been admirable competition in that room for awhile now. Thomas was super today and Casey did some good things, too."
Those quarterbacks have a greater grasp of new coordinator Tyler Paopao's offense than they did at the start of spring, which should allow them both to start fall camp in a good place when the Vikings return in late summer. Gunnar Hensley and senior Connor Neill give them further depth at quarterback, but there are a handful of other players Olszewski and his coaches will have their eye on after they impressed during the spring.
"Tate Johnson had a wonderful spring — really, really played well," the coach said. "When you look at our receiver crew, with the guys that were out, Ethyn Rollinger and Max Minor stepped up and did some things. At tight end we're young but they've all developed well. The one that really stood out was Matt Francis. He continues to get better. Corbin Wirkus, a freshman, played well at left tackle and Carson Wilson at center is creating competition. On defense, (safety) Logan Leonard had a good spring, all of our corners got better and Will Davis at D-end had an exceptional spring."
Adding to that list will be former O'Gorman High School and South Dakota State wide receiver Canyon Bauer, who transferred to Augie from the Jacks last week. Bauer caught eight passes for 97 yards for the FCS national champions in 2022.
The Vikings also announced their 2023 captains during halftime of Saturday's game. They are receiver Logan Uttecht, safety Peyton Buckley, offensive lineman Blake Larson and linebacker Haden Wallace.