No one in the St. John’s locker room was saying one win over Carleton – even Saturday’s decisive 51-14 thumping of the Knights at Clemens Stadium – erased the frustration of four straight losses the previous four weeks.
But the victory did provide a badly-needed confidence boost for a team that clearly needed one.
“This was a great relief,” said safety Darryl Williams, who finished with four tackles as part of a defense that held Carleton scoreless until well into the fourth quarter as St. John’s improved to 1-4 in MIAC play and 3-4 overall.
“We needed a game like this to help get our mojo back. Noe we need to keep the progress going through the bye week and come out hard against Gustavus (in the team’s next game on Oct. 27 in Collegeville).”
The win ended a week that saw a round of rumors head coach John Gagliardi was on the verge of announcing his retirement – rumors Gagliardi immediately shot down. He said again Saturday he has no plans to make any announcements over the team’s bye week this week and that he is unlikely to make any decision about the future until after the season comes to an end.
But players heard the talk, even if they said they did not let it distract them.
“We all heard the rumors and stuff people were saying this week,” said freshman quarterback Nick Martin, who threw for 309 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for three more. “And we wanted to come out and show everybody the kind of team we can be when we play well. This was a big win.”
It was, even if it came against an opponent that often appeared overmatched. But Carleton did enter the game 3-2 and had high hopes of picking up the school’s first-ever win over St. John’s.
“I liked the game plan we had coming in,” said Knights senior running back Andy Zweber (the younger brother of former Johnnies linebacker Nick Zweber), whose team is now 0-30 all-time against the Johnnies.
“But we struggled offensively in our execution. We never had a drive where everybody was doing our jobs at the same time.”
St. John’s now has a bye week with which to rest up some injured players. Running back Nick Schneider left Saturday’s game in the first half with a strained left groin and outside linebacker Maze Thompson left with a strained pattelar tendon. Neither returned. And safety Dylan Graves did not play after suffering a concussion against Augsburg the week before.
Quarterback Connor Bruns also expects to be ready against Gustavus after missing the past three games with a separated shoulder.
And, with no big announcements expected, the team should also be able to focus on continuing the improvement they showed Saturday.
“A win is a win for us right now, no matter who it comes against,” Martin said. “After this last stretch, we needed a game like this. This gives us a huge boost. Now, hopfully we can take this momentum into our bye week and come out firing after that.”
But before we turn the page, let’s take one last look at the win over the Knights by diving a bit more deeply behind the numbers:
That was how many points a St. John’s defense, which had surrendered an average of 40 points per game the past four weeks, gave up Saturday. And those two Carleton touchdowns came in the fourth quarter when the Johnnies starters had already exited.
In fact, the Knights had just 72 yards of offense total before a 72-yard drive that culminated in a 2-yard touchdown run by Zweber that cut the gap to 51-7 with 8:33 to play.
“It was just a lot of basic things that got better,” said defensive end Connor Grill, who finished with two of his team’s three sacks. “We were tackling better. The right people were getting to the right spots. Just that basic stuff that has been missing the past few games.”
Williams and Alex Powell started at the two safety spots in place of Graves and Max Forster (who had started at cornerback all season until switching to safety against Augsburg, then suffering a season-ending broken foot). And players like sophomore linebacker Bruce London, who tied for the team lead with six tackles, and freshman linebacker Drake Matuska, who had four tackles, got some chances to play as well.
“The defense did what we were supposed to do today,” Williams said. “We went out and we executed.”
That’s how many yards the Johnnies piled up in total offense on a day in which they scored on their first three possessions and took a 37-0 lead at halftime.
Martin had the best day of his still young collegiate career, making things happen with his arm and with his feet. He rushed for three of his team’s first four touchdowns.
Sophomore Rob Voshell finished with four catches for 124 yards. Colin Moynihan rushed for 75 yards and a touchdown. The Johnnies threw for 367 yards total and rushed for 186.
“We spread the field out,” Martin said. “We went to the trips formation a lot and we did a good job of reading their corners. Voshell had some great catches and (Josh) Bungum might have had the best catch of the season (on a diving 37-yard touchdown reception just before halftime).”
Senior tight ends Wade Powers and Scott Ramey, who are filling in for injured starter Taylor Freetly after Freetly was lost for the season with a broken collarbone two weeks ago, also chipped in. Powers had three catches for 52 yards. Ramey had a 2-yard touchdown catch late in the first quarter.,
“It’s not the way we wanted to get on the field, but at the same time, we know it’s our responsibility to go out there and contribute,” Powers said. “When one guy goes down, others have to step up.”
That’s how many career victories Gagliardi now has after Saturday, extending his lead as college football’s winningest all-time coach.
Now in his 64th season as a college head coach (his 60th at St. John’s), and less than a month away from his 86th birthday, Gagliardi is the first to admit retirement is something he thinks about.
But he made it clear Saturday that he has now iminent announcement planned, and he said the rumors that made the rounds this week didn’t distract from his preparation.
“You’d have to ask our players if it distracted them,” said Gagliardi, who coached from the sideline against the Knights. “I try to put all that stuff aside. I think as long as you keep working, you don’t focus on stuff like that – what people may be saying. If you have a job to do, that’s what you’re focused on.”
Around the MIAC:
* Elsewhere in the conference today, St. Thomas posted a decisive 37-0 victory over Bethel in a clash of two previously unbeaten teams who were each ranked in the top 10 in both major Division III national polls: http://www.tommiesports.com/ftbl/news/Feature_1013.html
* Augsburg running back Jerise Washington had a record-breaking day as the Auggies stayed hot with a 45-37 road win over St. Olaf in Northfield: http://athletics.augsburg.edu/news/2012/10/12/fb101312.aspx
* Concordia rebounded from last week’s heartbreaking loss at Bethel by shelling Hamline 63-14 on Homecoming in Moorhead: http://concordiamn.prestosports.com/sports/fball/2012-13/releases/201210133wt8dr
* Homecoming was not as sweet in St. Peter where Gustavus fell 16-0 to Valley City (N.D.) State in nonconference play: http://athletics.blog.gustavus.edu/2012/10/13/football-drops-homecoming-game-16-0-to-valley-city-state/