You have to hand it to Coach Gary Fasching. He replaces a living legend, and then leads his team to the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) title in only his second season at the helm. Saturday his team won their seventh game in a row, this time over St. Olaf, to clinch the conference title and punch their ticket into the Division-III playoffs.
It was a defensive battle for much of the first quarter. On the Oles third possession, Carter Hanson forced and recovered a fumble, giving St. John’s the ball at the St. Olaf 44. Star running back Sam Sura then took over, carrying the ball four times in the team’s first six plays of the drive. He gained 29 yards, with the last a 15-yard run down to the St. Olaf 9-yard line. The ball was handed to him one more time and he would not be denied, taking the ball the nine yards for the score and the 7-0 St. John’s lead.
The score remained that way until Hanson recovered another Oles fumble, this time at the St. John’s 32. Sura led the way on the first scoring drive; now it was time for his quarterback to take center stage. Nick Martin’s 11-yard pass to Josh Bungum on third and 6 gave the Johnnies a first down at the St. John’s 47. On the next play Martin kept the ball and raced 23-yards down to the Oles 30. Two plays later his 27-yard pass to Bungum made it 14-0. That would be the score at half.
The Johnnies would begin their first possession of the second half at their own 30-yard line. Sura carried the ball on the first two plays, gaining 20-yards. Martin then passed to Bungum for 21-yards and followed that up with an 11-yard strike to Bungum. Two plays later he found his favorite target for a 17-yard touchdown, Bungum’s second touchdown catch of the game. The extra point was blocked, making it 20-0.
Later in the third quarter Sura scored again. The Johnnies began the drive at the St. Olaf 40. Martin completed two passes for 17 yards. Sura gained two yards to set up a third and 2. He was given the ball again and burst through the line for the 21-yard touchdown. The extra-point was blocked again, making it 26-0.
While the offense was putting up 26 points, the defense was simply shutting down the Oles offense. The Oles had the ball seven times in the first half and turned the ball over twice. They also missed two field goals. It was a typical Johnnies defensive showing, where they will give up some yards, but when it gets deep into their end they know how to shut a team down. This is what they did to St. Olaf for much of the game.
The Oles punted on each of their first three drives of the second half, but finally managed to get a score before the third quarter ended. QB Nate Penz threw a three-yard touchdown pass to Joel Reinhardt to cap off a 10-play, 48-yard drive. The extra-point was blocked making the score 26-6. That was how it would end.
The St. John’s defense was absolutely awesome again. They gave up just nine first downs, and allowed 199 total yards of offense. The Oles finished with just 50 total yards passing, and converted 3 of 13 third downs. Hanson had seven tackles to go along with two fumble recoveries. Reid Bjorklund also had seven tackles.
On offense it was another typical Sam Sura day. The big back finished with 25 carries for 136 yards and two scores. QB Nick Martin continues to show that he can go to the air with the best of them. He finished 11-15 for 132 yards and two touchdowns. Bungum continues to be his favorite target, making 6-catches on the day for 94-yards and two touchdowns.
With the win the St. John’s Johnnies clinched the MIAC Title. They will now wait until 5 p.m. Sunday night to see how the playoff matchups will shake out for them. St. Olaf dropped to 1-9 with the loss.
By Robert Pannier