In the end, things went pretty much as expected when the St. John’s football team took on Hamline Saturday afternoon at Klas Field in St. Paul.
The Johnnies weren’t expected to have any trouble from the Pipers – a team that has not beaten St. John’s since 1994 – and they didn’t, emerging with a 55-10 win on an afternoon when Hamline was without head coach John Pate, who missed the game while tending to what was termed a personal matter.
St. John’s has now scored 40 or more points in the last 13 meetings between the two teams — and over 50 seven times — though the 10 points are the most the Pipers have scored against the Johnnies since a 49-13 loss in 1998.
But both Hamline scores – a 38-yard field goal by Josh Broback in the first quarter and a 1-yard touchdown run by Josh Ferkinhoff in the fourth – came after the Johnnies fumbled punt returns and gave the Pipers the ball inside the St. John’s 22.
Otherwise, St. John’s held Hamline to just 10 first downs and 157 yards of total offense while recording four interceptions – including one that sophomore linebacker Andrew Rose returned 35 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter.
“We played really well as a unit today,” Rose said. “You can’t complain about a win like that.”
The only down note was an ankle injury suffered by freshman quarterback Nick Martin in the second quarter. He said afterward that the initial diagnosis was a high-ankle sprain. That brought on junior Connor Bruns, seeing his first action since the team’s starter at the beginning of the season separated his right shoulder in a loss at Concordia on Sept. 22.
He finished 10 of 17 passing for 145 yards and a touchdown as his team ran up a total of 434 yards offensively.
“It took me a little bit of time to shake some of the rust off,” Bruns said. “But things got better and better as the game went on. It felt really good to be back out there.”
So now St. John’s (3-4 MIAC, 5-4 overall) has a three-game winning streak going into its season finale next week at Bethel, a team that was upset 24-17 by St. Olaf Saturday. The Royals remain one of the conference’s top teams and they are obviously a cut (or several above the three teams the Johnnies have beaten (Carleton, Gustavus and Hamline) since snapping their four-game losing streak.
But players are hoping the confidence level they’ve been able to build up the past three games will make a difference next week. With a win, St. John’s would match last season’s 6-4 record. A loss would mean the first .500 finish at the school since 1986.
“Winning next week would be huge,” said running back Jake Essler, who rushed for a pair of touchdowns in the second quarter Saturday. “It would let our seniors go out on a big note and it would mean everybody else coming back next year would have even more confidence.”
Of course, the week leading up to the game is likely to feature renewed speculation on the future of Johnnies head coach John Gagliardi. But more on that later. First, let’s take one last look at Hamline by delving a bit deeper behind the numbers:
That was how many yards the Johnnies allowed through the air today. Passing is not Hamline’s strong suit and the Pipers were without starting quarterback Kevin Ackerley for the second straight game due to injury. Sophomore Cam Knudsen got the start in his place and he finished 2 of 7 passing for 30 yards with three interceptions.
Jack Swanberg was 1 of 1 passing for 17 yards. Gabe Martinez was 0 of 1 with an interception.
The Pipers had a little more success on the ground, finishing with 110 yards. But aside from the two scoring drives on a short field, they really were unable to get anything going.
“We just couldn’t move the ball,” said Knudsen – the son of current Maple Lake and former St. Cloud Cathedral and Apollo head coach Tim Knudsen. “They have some big guys up front on defense and that made it tough.”
Hamline did cut the gap to 7-3 on Broback’s field goal in the first quarter. But St. John’s then rattled off 41 unanswered points.
“We’re starting to feel a lot more confident in ourselves as a defense,” said cornerback Bobby Fischer, who had two interceptions today. “Everybody is filling the roles they’re supposed to fill. It’s too bad it’s taken this long. But it’s started to come together.”
That’s how many yards the Johnnies rushed for as a team. Not their highest total of the season. But St. John’s was very effective on the ground in a balanced effort Saturday.
Steve Johnson led the way with 12 carries for 63 yards. Harry Awe had eight carries for 51 yards, including a leaping 1-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter. Essler had four carries for 20 yards. And freshman Sam Sura had three carries for 11 yards and a late touchdown.
“We came in saying even if they put a lot of guys in the box against us, we were still going to find a way to run the ball, and we did that,” Johnson said. “We came straight at them. Our line did a great job of blocking. And we got things going.”
The offense didn’t seem rattled readjusting to Bruns when he came in for Martin, who has started in his place the last five games. Martin was on crutches afterward and his status for next week is uncertain. He will be evaluated further Monday.
“It was like deja vu with Connor,” Johnson said. “It was kind of like he never left. We’re all familiar with him. We’ve been playing with him for two seasons now. So there were no big surprises. Everybody just adjusted and kept going.”
That’s the current win total for Gagliardi in his 64 seasons as a collegiate head coach – the last 60 of which have been spent at St. John’s. It just further extends his lead as the winningest coach in college football history.
But speculation over whether this will be Gagliardi’s last year has been flying much of this season. He has repeated again and again that he will decide whether or not he will return next fall when he is ready, which is likely after the season has concluded.
Yet that won’t stop the discussion as his team approaches it’s final game of the season, though the head coach sayd he doesn’t plan to pay attention to any of it.
“Nobody asks me about it really, except you,” he said to a reporter (OK, this one) after Saturday’s game. “The rest of that is all just out there on the fringes.
“It’s not going to be a distraction (this week). I won’t allow it to be.”
That’s the same attitude his players are taking – keeping the focus on Bethel.
“We know those questions are coming, but that talk has been going on for a long time now,” Essler said. “We’ll be able to stay focused on Bethel. That’s what John is going to be focused on too. We just want to go out there and get a win next week – whether it’s his last game or not.”
Around the MIAC
Elsewhere in the conference today, St. Thomas claimed its third-straight MIAC title with a 21-7 win over Concordia in a big showdown with the Cobbers in Moorhead: http://www.tommiesports.com/ftbl/news/Cob_113.html
* As mentioned before, Jake Schmiesing had two touchdowns – including the game-winner – as St. Olaf upset Bethel 24-17: http://fusion.stolaf.edu/athletics/index.cfm?fuseaction=NewsDetails&id=3836
* Gustavus rebounded from its loss at St. John’s last week to beat Carleton 41-27 in Northfield: http://fusion.stolaf.edu/athletics/index.cfm?fuseaction=NewsDetails&id=3836
* And Ayrton Scott threw for four touchdowns and rushed for two more as Augsburg held on to beat a plucky challenge from Macalester in a 58-41 nonconference victory: http://athletics.augsburg.edu/news/2012/11/3/fb110312.aspx