By Brandon Spratt
SJU went into last Saturday’s game averaging more than 67 points per game, but they managed just 17 in a loss to St. Thomas.
“We just didn’t execute on some plays and missed a few holes . . . they just played good defense,” SJU senior running back Dusty Krueger said.
SJU lost to St. Thomas 20-17 at Target Field in front of an NCAA Division III record crowd of 37,355. The Johnnies were outgained 386-151 in offensive yards, and managed just one rushing yard on 20 attempts.
SJU senior left tackle Noah Voigt missed the game with a concussion.
“It’s hard when you don’t have your starting line in there,” Krueger said, “They work as one unit so they need to be on the same page.”
The Johnnies did not convert a third down in the game, finishing 0-11.
“3rd downs were especially difficult because we put ourselves in long yardage situations, and it allowed them to dictate the defense,” SJU Head Coach Gary Fasching said via email.
Senior wide receiver Evan Clark racked up 59 total yards on three catches and one rush. He hauled in his first touchdown reception of the season, after a 13 TD season in 2016, on a 40-yard pass from Sophomore quarterback Jackson Erdmann in the fourth quarter.
“Our hope is that every game we can get Evan 10-15 touches,” Fasching said, “We have to get him the ball more, no question.”
Trailing 14-10 at halftime, the SJU offense was on the field for just over five minutes in the second half. The Johnnies ran 15 offensive plays compared to UST’s 46.
“The biggest thing we need to do is be able to make changes at halftime instead of just sticking with certain plays,” Krueger said.
As the SJU offense struggled to stay on the field, the defense needed to step up. They held UST to three points in the second half.
“They had a pretty long drive in that third quarter and we ended up intercepting a pass on our goal line which was a huge play,” SJU senior linebacker David Franta said.
Being on the field nearly 40 minutes during the game presented challenges for the defense.
“The heat definitely played a factor … you couldn’t drink enough water,” Franta said. “We had a few guys who were cramping up out there.”
The defense was stingy outside of two long UST touchdown passes.
“You certainly can’t put those pass plays on our defensive backs,” Franta said. “It’s a team dynamic. There were definitely mistakes we made as linebackers.”
SJU limited the Tommie running game to three yards per attempt, but UST found success with a fullback dive play.
“They typically run that play about 2 times a game. They had success, so they ran it a few more times,” Fasching said.
“We were maybe lined up incorrectly a few times … they found a weakness on us and hit it a few times,” Franta said.
The majority SJU crowd came to life late in the fourth quarter with the Johnnies trailing by three.
“We’re thankful for all the students and the rest of Johnnie nation who came out to support us like they always do,” Franta said.
“The fan noise was loud, we had to change our snap count,” Krueger said.
The Johnnies got a defensive stop with about four minutes to go, but were unable to gain a first down on offense. UST ran out the clock to finish the game.
SJU returns to Collegeville this week to host MIAC foe Bethel.
“We will have our hands full,” Fasching said. “We need to improve greatly from last week’s game.”
The Johnnies likely need to win their remaining six games to qualify for the Division III playoffs.
According to Franta, “Playoff time starts now.”
PHOTO COURTESY OF STAR TRIBUNE • Sophomore Tommie running back Josh Parks hurdles over junior Johnnie defensive back Max Jackson during SJU’s loss.