Match-up: On Saturday at 1:00 PM Eastern Time the College of St. Scholastica Saints (Upper Midwest Athletic Conference, 10-0, 9-0) will travel to Collegeville, MN to play the St. John’s University Johnnies (Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, 9-1, 7-1) in the first round of the Division-III Football playoffs. St. John’s enters the playoffs ranked 13th in the latest D3Football poll, and are currently riding a 7-game winning streak. The Saints went undefeated this season, and have given up just 37 points in their last five games.
Coaches: Kurt Ramler is in his rookie season as the College of St. Scholastica Saints head football coach. He is just the second coach in the programs history. Ramler will be matched against his alma mater where he was the offensive coordinator in 2013, and he is the former head coach of the Carleton Knights, where in six seasons he was 22-38, including 7-3 in 2008.
Gary Fasching is in his second season as the head football coach for the St. John’s Johnnies. He replaced living legend John Gagliardi, who is the winningest coach in college football history, and Coach Fasching has done a masterful job. He is now 16-4 in his two seasons, and this is his first playoff appearance as the head coach of the team.
The College of St. Scholastica Saints are led on offense by senior quarterback Tyler Harper, who threw for 2088 yards and 26 touchdowns this season. He had a solid 58.8 completion percentage, and he threw 9 interceptions in 250 attempts. Harper also gained 263 yards on the ground with five touchdowns.
Freshman Preston Robinson has given the team a good glimpse of how good their offense is going to be in the years to come, rushing for 826 yards and 12 touchdowns, while posting an outstanding 6.8 yards per carry average. At 6-0, 181 the running back does not have a big physical body, but he has speed and a quick first step that leaves many defenders in the dust.
Six different Saints made at least 13 receptions, led by Mitch O’Neil who had 38 catches for 383 yards and three touchdowns. The junior fullback has great size (5-11, 213) and soft hands, and once in the open field he is a load to bring down. Andrew Smith is a serious deep threat, making 32 catches for 642 yards, an incredibly gaudy 20.1 average. He also had 7 touchdowns.
Smith has also proved to be incredibly dangerous as punt return man, posting a 20.5 average and taking two returns to the house. Kenneth Jinkins handles the kickoff returns and he has proven to be as elusive with his 32.8 average and a 92-yard touchdown return.
Two linebackers lead the Saints defense. Junior Alex Mangan recorded 84 tackles in the regular season with 2 sacks and a forced fumble. Sophomore David Moran was second on the team with 72 tackles and 2 fumble recoveries. Brady Fish is an outstanding defensive back, who made 64 tackles and picked off three. He also added 1.5 sacks, and is relentless in his pursuit.
St. Scholastica had 22 sacks on the year, but no one on the team had more than four. They also had 12 interceptions and 9 fumble recoveries.
Any discussion about the St. John’s offense begins with junior running back Sam Sura. Sura leads all of Division-III football with 1605 yards rushing, and he has 16 touchdowns. At 5-11, 200 pounds, the junior is not afraid to go right at teams, and his 5.9 yards per carry average in 270 attempts proves he is a load to bring down.
A look at junior quarterback Nick Martin’s statistics will cause many to think that he simply has no arm. Martin threw for just 853 in 105 attempts and had 11 touchdowns. Those are not very big numbers by the standards of most quarterbacks in the playoffs, but that is the beauty of Martin. He is not asked to do a lot in this offense, because they would rather pound it out with Sura, but when he is called upon to do so he delivers, as the Bethel Royals learned two weeks ago. The junior has a solid arm, and he is very smart with the ball. It just so happens that he has the leading rusher in the country, so he doesn’t need to throw that often.
Josh Bungum leads the team with 26 receptions for 355 yards and 3 touchdowns. He has become Martin’s favorite target of late, and he is quite dangerous if teams crowd the box trying to stop Sura. TE J.T. Ford made 20 catches and is a favorite target of Martin’s in the red zone.
Like Martin, the statistics do not properly tell the tale of how good the Johnnies defense is. They gave up an average of 328-plus yards per game during the regular season, but just 12.3 points per game. They are a bend but don’t break team that is incredibly stingy around their goal line. They also know how to take the ball away and create disruption. The Johnnies defense recorded 17 sacks, 14 interceptions, and 14 fumble recoveries. That does not include the large number of turnovers on downs they have added.
Sophomore linebacker Carter Hanson earned a starting job after a few weeks into the season, and has been everything the coaches could have wanted from him and more. He leads the team with 75 tackles, a sack, 3 fumble recoveries and 6 pass defenses/breakups. He has an incredible motor and will butt heads with any running back. Junior Reid Bjorklund is another relentless linebacker, who was second on the team with 60 tackles, plus he added 2 sacks.
While St. John’s has skilled players all around the defense, their primary five defensive backs are the reason why this team is so good. Garrett Ackerman, Lucas Glomb, Andrew Norri, Ben Rossini and Trevor Warner play together extremely well and all are incredibly skilled. They will allow some plays, but when the ball is deep in their end they are like a bear protecting her young. The five have combined for 12 interceptions, and they can play zone, man, support the run and tackle.
St. Scholastica: 417.1 yards per game. 42.1 points per game
St. John’s: 357.3 yards per game, 30.7 points per game
St. Scholastica: 287.4 yards per game, 14.0 points allowed per game
St. John’s: 328.1 yards per game, 12.3 points allowed per game
Outlook: This is g0ing to be a very interesting matchup between the St. Scholastica Saints passing game and the secondary of St. John’s. If Harper is able to find open receivers then the Saints may pull off the upset. The Saints look a lot like Gustavus Adolphus in their attack, and the Johnnies rolled in that game after half. Expect Sura to have a huge game, like a 200-plus yard game, and for Nick Martin to make some key plays to keep the Johnnies moving the chains. St. John’s isn’t a team that likes to blow out opponents, so expect them to win this in a close one, 31-17.
Tomorrow’s Previews on the Minor League Sports Report will look at:
Widener vs. Muhlenberg
Delaware Valley vs. Christopher Newport
Linfield vs. Chapman
Mary Hardin-Baylor vs. Texas Lutheran
By Robert Pannier