College football: Quarterback carousel continues for Bulldogs

Minnesota Duluth quarterback John Larson passes the ball during a practice at Malosky Stadium in Duluth earlier this season. (Clint Austin /

Minnesota Duluth football coach Curt Wiese described UMD’s last meeting with Upper Iowa as one of the craziest games he has ever seen.

It was Sept. 9, 2017, in Fayette, Iowa, and the Bulldogs started the game with Mike Rybarczyk at quarterback but he got knocked out for the season. Backup John Larson came in and hurt his knee, and then third-stringer Ben Everhart came in only to get hurt on the goal line.

“Ben took a couple plays off, so (wide receiver) Nate Ricci, who was actually injured at the time, we pulled him off the training table to put him in for a couple snaps at quarterback,” Wiese said. “It’s amazing how thin you can get so quick.”

Now two years later, UMD is dealing with another quarterback carousel as Larson, now the team’s starter, injured his shoulder three weeks ago at Minnesota State-Mankato and has yet to return. Wiese was optimistic Larson would go Saturday when the Bulldogs (5-2) host Upper Iowa (1-6) at 1:05 p.m. in an NSIC game at Malosky Stadium, but his return will have to wait at least another week.

“We’re crossing our fingers, honestly,” Wiese said. “I thought he’d be ready by early last week, so it’s taking awhile. He wants to make sure he’s healthy by the time he comes back. He’s been a quarterback who has had a few injuries, so he wants to come back and have an opportunity to play healthy.”




The Bulldogs plan to rotate sophomore Garrett Olson and freshman Keagan Calchera series by series as they had done two weeks ago in a 21-7 homecoming victory over Wayne State. Last week in a 34-3 loss at Sioux Falls, Olson played the bulk of the game.

“Last week Garrett had a better week of practice, and Sioux Falls had a little bit more complex defense, and we felt Garrett gave us the best opportunity to execute our offense last weekend,” Wiese said. “This week our plan is to rotate them both. Keagan is coming around and has continued to get better. He sees light at the end of the tunnel with an opportunity to play here.”

Olson was 14-for-30 passing for 109 yards against Sioux Falls, with no touchdowns and two interceptions. Calchera was 2-for-5 passing for 18 yards in limited action. UMD’s nonexistent running game — 28 attempts, six yards — made the Bulldogs one dimensional and helped lead to that pair of Olson picks.

“We need to be able to rush the football and eliminate turnovers,” Wiese said. “And on the defensive side, we have to quit giving up big plays. We gave up too many big plays against Mankato and Sioux Falls, and those were critically breaking points in the game when you’re struggling offensively. It’s kind of a double-edged sword, and we need to shore up both things.”

On the season, Olson is 32-for-57 passing for 320 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions. The 6-foot, 190-pounder from Eden Prairie, Minn., was a two-year starter at Minnetonka High School, completing 232 of 365 passes (.636) for 2,720 yards, with 17 touchdowns in 18 starts. He also rushed 257 times for 956 yards and 12 more scores and was a captain.


“Garrett is a positive kid, and that’s kind of why he’s in the position he’s in,” Wiese said. “He’s worked hard to get to where he’s at, and he’s a good leader for us. He’s continuing to get better every week, but sometimes it’s hard to improve as much as you want to when you haven’t had an opportunity to do it on Saturday, and now he’s had that opportunity.”

Calchera, meanwhile, is a 6-3, 210-pounder from Eau Claire (Wis.) Memorial, where he started two seasons and passed for 1,054 yards and eight touchdowns as a senior captain. He has only thrown for 20 times on the season, completing 10 of them for 95 yards and is still seeking his first collegiate touchdown toss. Now he gets his chance.

“We’re in that same mentality right now that this is an opportunity for someone else to come in and get experience,” Wiese said. “This has given Garrett and Keagan a great opportunity to get some time and become seasoned quarterbacks.”


What: NSIC football game
When: 1:05 p.m. Saturday
Where: Malosky Stadium (4,500 capacity, artificial turf)
Records: Upper Iowa 1-6, UMD 5-2
Forecast: mostly sunny with a high of 58 and 13 mph wind
TV: My9
Radio: KDAL-AM 610/FM 103.9 (
Twitter: @TacoJon1

Jon Nowacki joined the News Tribune in August 1998 as a sports reporter. He grew up in Stephen, Minnesota, in the northwest corner of the state, where he was actively involved in school and sports and was a proud member of the Tigers’ 1992 state championship nine-man football team.

After graduating in 1993, Nowacki majored in print journalism at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, serving as editor of the college paper, “The Aquin,” and graduating with honors in December 1997. He worked with the Associated Press during the “tobacco trial” of 1998, leading to the industry’s historic $206 billion settlement, before moving to Duluth.

Nowacki started as a prep reporter for the News Tribune before moving onto the college ranks, with an emphasis on Minnesota Duluth football, including coverage of the Bulldogs’ NCAA Division II championships in 2008 and 2010.

Nowacki continues to focus on college sports while filling in as a backup on preps, especially at tournament time. He covers the Duluth Huskies baseball team and auto racing in the summer. When time allows, he also writes an offbeat and lighthearted food column entitled “The Taco Stand,” a reference to the “Taco Jon” nickname given to him by his older brother when he was a teenager that stuck with him through college. He has a teenage daughter, Emma.

Nowacki can be reached at or (218) 380-7027. Follow him on Twitter @TacoJon1.
What To Read Next
Get Local