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2-0 Johnnies prepare for rival UST

Johnnies huddle in practice to strategize for their away game against the Tommies. | Phil Kittock

More than 7,900 people in attendance at Clemens Stadium showed support for the Johnnie football team as they beat the visiting University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in a rain-soaked first home game of the season.

After more than two hours of rain and dark skies, SJU came away with a win against a Division II team.

But that victory was just a springboard to the team’s upcoming challenges.

This weekend marks the annual tradition of Tommie-Johnnie, when St. John’s travels to St. Paul to once again play against the team’s rival, University of St. Thomas.

The Johnnies have opened the season with consecutive wins in their first two games of 2013, leading to added momentum as they push into Saturday’s game.

The team’s second victory over Eau Claire was especially significant.

“Eau-Claire plays us tough every year,” senior tight end Matt Dockendorf said. “And obviously starting the year with two wins outside of the conference is a big accomplishment.”

The win was also important in regards to the fans, boosters and other teams in the conference. It showed that the Johnnies are on a new path towards success.

With their victory on Saturday, SJU snapped a three-game losing streak against Eau Claire.

A key performer in the Johnnie’s win over the Blugolds was sophomore Josh Bungum, who was named MIAC offensive player of the week. Bungum Caught eight passes for a total 158 yeards including an 84-yard touchdown.

Members of the team attribute their win to strong performances but also to their new head coach.

“Obviously with this new era of SJU football everyone is going have their eyes on us to see how we play in the absence of John (Gagliardi),” Dockendorf said. “But I believe Gary has infused his own brand of football into this team.”

With this new aspect to the Johnnies’ game comes the added question of whether it will have an effect on arguably the most important game of the year against University of St. Thomas.

SJU has lost the past three matchups against the Tommies, but that hasn’t affected their outlook on this year’s matchup.

“I would say we are confident. We know we are very close to being a very good team,” senior wide receiver Blake Belland said. “And if everyone plays their position and does their job, we can bump up to being a great team.”

Belland is getting his first opportunity to play against the rival Tommies this season after sitting out the last three years.

The past three meetings have certainly left a sour taste with the Johnnies, but certainly not enough to dampen their spirits.

“I am disappointed that we haven’t beaten them in the last 3 years, but I am glad we get another opportunity to play them and show them what we got,” Belland said. “I feel very optimistic that we are going to get it done this year.”

Regardless of the outcome, the game is looking to be an intense match-up between two undefeated teams.

The Tommie-Johnnie tradition continues at 1:10 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 21 at the O’Shaughnessy Stadium in St. Paul, Minn.

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