Trailing 14-0 after the first quarter, newly appointed St. Olaf football coach, Jerry Olszewski, never thought the Sept. 20, 2008, game against St. Thomas (Minn.) would become the longest game in Division III football history. 

When his team tied the game with 4:44 left on the clock, he did think they had their first conference win in the bag. He just didn’t realize it would take six overtimes and a lot of heart to finally reach this goal.

With both St. Olaf and St. Thomas (Minn.) having new coaches, neither team knew what to expect from the 2008 game but looking back Olszewski coined it an "epic battle." 

Coty Watkins, St. Olaf’s senior captain and running back who scored the game winning touchdown, described the game as “not the most exciting until the fourth quarter when we got the ball on our own one-yard line with about 10 minutes left in the game.”

St. Thomas (Minn.), leading 14-7, had driven to the Oles’ five-yard line but on second-and-goal a Tommies’ fumble was recovered by St. Olaf at the one-yard line.

That’s when the game turned from uneventful to unforgettable. The Oles drove 99 yards in approximately five minutes with Watkins’ 10-yard TD reception tying the contest.

Each team had one final chance in regulation but the defenses held firm to force the game to overtime. Still, at that point no one expected the game to go to six overtime periods and create a new Division III football record. 

They would score, we would score. They would miss a field goal, and we would miss a field goal. It seemed never ending. But we started to realize we were part of something special as the overtime periods kept coming.
-- St. Thomas (Minn.) head coach Glenn Caruso

As a lively crowd gathered to cheer on the teams in the hot 80 degree sun, the first two overtime periods were scoreless. Then, both teams kicked field goals in the third overtime, making the score 17-17.

By the end of the fourth overtime period, “the game started to become a little repetitive and it was strange how things were playing out,” recalls St. Thomas’ coach Glenn Caruso. “They would score, we would score. They would miss a field goal, and we would miss a field goal. It seemed never ending. But we started to realize we were part of something special as the overtime periods kept coming.”

When asked about his reaction to the number of overtimes, Watkins also agreed with Caruso that it became a little redundant. “I will never forget that the officials made the captains walk to the middle of the field before every overtime to decide which end of the field we would start on for either offense or defense. It was getting hotter throughout the game and we were trying to save as much energy as possible, so the thought of walking out there to say ‘yeah we want the ball, at this end zone’ seemed too much.”

After 95 offensive and 75 defensive plays, Watkins’ 16-yard run for a touchdown sealed the 29-23 victory.

“I have never felt more joy after a touchdown and, more importantly, a win in my entire life. It’s hard to explain the emotions during and after that game but it was one of the greatest memories of my life,” said Watkins, who listed this touchdown as one of his greatest football accomplishments.

Two years later, Whittier and Puget Sound also played six overtimes to match the record but St. Olaf and St. Thomas (Minn.) will always be the first Division III teams to play a six-overtime game.

“When it was all said and done it was one of the most gratifying team wins I have ever been a part of,” explained Olszewski. “I was extremely happy for our kids as I realized this would be a game that they would not forget for the rest of their lives.”

The NCAA Stats at 75 series will be published weekly through May and will include interesting statistical championship stories and all-time performances. Photos courtesy of the St. Olaf and St. Thomas athletic departments.