It has been almost exactly two months since St. Thomas came to Collegeville, MN and dominated in a 35-14 victory. Now the St. John’s Johnnies will get a chance to seek revenge and knock their rivals from the Division-III playoffs after a dominating performance by the St. John’s defense in a 51-7 victory over the University of Dubuque.
This was a contest where the outcome was never really in question. The Johnnies scored on their first possession of the game to jump out om top 7-0. The St. John’s defense forced a punt by the Spartans on their first possession. That gave QB Nick Martin the ball at his team’s 30 and he led an impressive drive showing incredible poise when his team needed it most.
Martin’s first pass of the drive was incomplete, and then he was dropped for a six-yard loss to set up third and 16. No problem for the big redhead, who then kept the ball and ran for 23-yards and a first down. Three plays later it was another third down, and this time Martin found Matt Miller for 20-yards and another first down. Three plays later the Johnnies quarterback passed to Nick Simon for the six-yard score and a 7-0 St. John’s lead.
From there neither team was able to generate much offense through the rest of the first quarter. The Spartans defense forced a punt on St. John’s next possession. Meanwhile, the home team’s defense was shutting down Dubuque at every opportunity. The Spartans generated just a single first down in each of their first two possessions. On their third possession of the game Jack Pietruszewski dropped Dubuque quarterback Rio Johnson in the end zone for the safety to make it 9-0. It was clear that the Johnnies defensive squad had come ready to battle.
The score remained a nine-point lead for St. John’s until they took possession of the ball 10:45 into the second quarter. Sam Sura carried the ball on consecutive plays, gaining 16-yards and really getting the drive rolling. The Spartans looked like they were going to force a field goal when they tackled Josh Bungum six yards short of a first down, setting up fourth and 6 at the Dubuque 26-yard-line. The Johnnies decided to go for it and Martin came up big, finding Sura, who burst for 13-yards and a first down. One play later Martin found Simon for a 13-yard touchdown to extend the lead to 16-0.
On the Spartans next possession they looked to be in good shape when Najee Toomer returned the kickoff to the 30-yard-line. The St. John’s defense quickly tightened, setting up a third and 4. Johnson passed to Trenton Grana-Curry for the first down, but Carter Hanson dislodged the ball. Jeremy Piper recovered it and raced 44-yards for the score making it 23-0.
A play like that would have crushed most teams but the Spartans showed they have real heart. Following the touchdown Dubuque mounted a 13-play, 71-yard drive that resulted in a touchdown when Johnson found Dylan Schultz on third and 7 for the 14-yard touchdown reception. Johnson completed six of his pass attempts on the drive, including passes of 13- and 15-yards.
The two teams headed to half with the Spartans down by 16. St. John’s had dominated much of the first half, and in the second they were going to really turn up the heat. They took the opening possession of the half and moved 67-yards in eight-plays for the score. Martin kept the drive alive with a clutch 10-yard pass to Simon on third and 3, and Bungum’s 25-yard run on third and 1 resulted in a touchdown and a 30-7 Johnnies’ lead.
Following the Johnnies touchdown the defense forced another three and out. Johnson was sacked on third and 10 for a 10-yard loss by Pietruszewski. The punt went just 28-yards and Bungum returned it 16-yards to the Dubuque 28. Four plays later, on fourth and 4, Martin hit Simon for the 22-yard touchdown and the lead was 30.
It would remain that way into the fourth quarter when St. John’s would score on their first possession of the frame. Up to a comfortable lead the Johnnies rested Sura and gave the ball to Antione Taylor who didn’t miss a beat. Taylor carried the ball five times for 25-yards, including a one-yard touchdown run to make it 44-7.
On the Spartans next possession Randy Perez would nail the coffin shut when he picked off a Conor Feckley pass and returned it 39-yards for the touchdown. That made it 51-7.
St. John’s gained 214-yards on the ground to the Spartans 53. Sura had 84-yards on 15-carries and Taylor added 53-more and a touchdown. No Dubuque rusher gained more than 21-yards.
Nick Martin continues to show why he is the most underrated quarterback in Division-III football, completing 17 of 26 pass attempts for 257-yards and 4 TDs. Sura had 3-receptions for 60-yards and a score, Bungum and 4-receptions for 59-yards, and Simon made 4-catches, three of which were for touchdowns.
Johnson finished 14-23 for 166-yards and a touchdown. Chris Bagley had 4-receptions for 89-yards.
Next weekend the Johnnies head to St. Paul to take on St. Thomas in the second round of the Division-III playoffs. This will be the first time the two bitter rivals have met in the playoffs.
By Robert Pannier