St. John’s/Bethel: Behind the numbers

So now the wait begins.

As expected, St. John’s coach John Gagliardi didn’t offer any big announcements following Saturday afternoon’s 27-22 season-closing loss to Bethel at Royal Stadium.

A decision on whether he will retire or return for his 61st season in Collegeville (and his 64th season as a college head coach) will wait until he has had a bit more time to reflect.

“I think I’ll go home and pull out that reclining chair,” Gagliardi said when he was surrounded by a group of reporters – including me – following the final gun. “Then I’ll see what happens next.”

Gagliardi’s 489 career victories are the most in college football history, and he took over at St. John’s just after Dwight Eisenhower was innagurated to start his first term as president in 1953.

His coaching career actually started 10 years before that – when he took over as player-coach of his high school team in Trinidad, Col. in 1943. So having done this at one level or another for the past 70 seasons, he’s not going to rush into any decisions about whether it’s time to call it quits.

“His legacy and accomplishments give him the opportunity to make that decision when he‘s ready to,” said senior running back Harry Awe, who like his teammates said he has not seen or heard any clues as to what Gagliardi might decide. “And that’s what he’s going to do.”

All that said, if I had to bet, I’d guess a decision will come soon, in the next few days or weeks. If only because it’s important to know what’s happening with the head coaching job as the recruiting process begins.

But this is a decision Gagliardi has certainly earned the right to make when he is ready to make it.

“All he said to me afterward was ‘good job and you guys really have our number,’” said Bethel coach Steve Johnson, whose team won for the sixth time in seven meetings against the Johnnies. “He was very gracious. We both have a ton of respect for each other’s programs.”

And with that, let’s delve behind the numbers for the final time in 2012:

5-5

That’s the Johnnies final record this season, on the heels of a 7-3 finish in 2010 and a 6-4 finish in 2011. So clearly, nobody thinks things are heading in the right direction.

St. John’s had played better in wins over Carleton, Gustavus and Hamline – the bottom three teams in the conference – and entered Saturday on a 3-game winning streak.

But the Royals were able to control the clock offensively, rushing for 217 yards as a team and holding the edge in time of possession. Four of Bethel’s five scoring drives were 11 plays or longer.

“Bethel’s strategy is to grind it out,” senior cornerback Bobby Fischer said. “They play you physical and try to control the ball. We couldn’t get off the field on third down and that just killed us.”

The Royals were 8 of 15 on third down and 3 of 4 on fourth down. When the team has lost this year, getting off the field in those kinds of situations has been an issue.

Saturday, sophomore quarterback Erik Peterson, who rushed for 104 yards and a touchdown and threw for 267 yards, was able to connect on some big passes to Mitch Hallstrom, who had nine catches for 123 yards, and other receivers.

“We saw the plays, but we just couldn’t get to a few balls,” Fischer said. “We had a few breakdowns as well. That hurt.”

52

That’s how many yards the Johnnies rushed for today against a very physical Bethel defense.

Running the ball has been a problem all season when St. John’s has faced the top teams in the conference.

Connor Bruns did throw for 258 yards and a touchdown in his first start since separating his right shoulder against Concordia on Sept. 22. But the Johnnies had to settle for field goals by Jimmie Mattson on three drives inside Bethel territory.

“We moved the ball and made passes when we had to,” running back Steve Johnson said. “But we couldn’t finish of drives. And that was our downfall in this game.”

Bruns had good moments and bad. He finished 28 of 49 passing with one costly interception that led to a Bethel touchdown early in the second half. And a few of his passes were too high or long for open receivers to get to.

But to his credit, he didn’t blame rust, even though last week was his first game action in well over a month. And his team did have 310 yards of offense overall.

“I can’t make perfect throws all the time and I’m not going to use being rusty as an excuse,” Bruns said. “There were definitely a few passes I could have thrown the ball better.”

Around the MIAC:

Elsewhere in the conference today, St. Thomas completed a perfect 10-0 regular season with a 35-21 over St. Olaf: http://www.tommiesports.com/ftbl/news/Oles_1110.html

* Concordia kept its hopes of earning an at-large bid to the Division III playoffs alive with a 29-10 win at Gustavus: https://gustavus.edu/athletics/fb/archives/2012/stats/gaccc.htm

* Augsburg finished its season 7-3 with a 49-24 win over Carleton: https://gustavus.edu/athletics/fb/archives/2012/stats/gaccc.htm

* Hamline had 303 yards of total offense, but fell 45-21 to Macalester in nonconference play in its season finale: http://www.hamline.edu/HUPopUp.aspx?id=4294982100

Frank Rajkowski

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