If a person looked at the overall statistics from the game, it would be easy to believe that that Hamline won Saturday afternoon’s contest between the Pipers and St. John’s Johnnies. After all, the Pipers outgained St. John’s by nearly 100 yards and had a small advantage in the time of possession. Those are the kind of statistics that tell a story of a team winning a close seven or 10 point game.
While those numbers tell one story, another number tells a completely different one. Four. Four is the number of takeaways that the Johnnies defense came up with, thus giving their team a short field to work with, and ensuring that St. John’s would dominate this game from the start. Two early interceptions helped the Johnnies race out to a 35-0 lead, where they were able to coast to the 49-28 victory.
The Johnnies were the epitome of efficiency to start out Saturday’s game. They scored on their first four possessions of the contest, while their defense held the Pipers to just 15 plays and 44 yards on Hamline’s first four drives. It was the kind of start that most coach’s dream about, and which surely gave the Pipers coach nightmares.
The Pipers received the ball first and were forced to punt after a three-n-out series. That brought star running back Sam Sura onto the field, and he quickly established that he was going to be very difficult to stop on this day. Sura rushed four times for 39 yards and scored on a five-yard blast to stake the Johnnies to a 7-0 lead. The junior running back was just getting started.
The St. John’s defense stifled the Pipers again on their next offensive series, holding them to just six yards on three plays, and forcing another punt. Six plays later the Johnnies were back in the end zone as Sura once again bulldozed his way to his second touchdown of the game. The running back had five carries on the drive for 34 yards, and his one-yard burst at the goal line made it a 14-0 game.
Hamline looked like they were going to respond on their next drive, as running back Austin Duncan began to find a little running room. With his help the Pipers were able to move the ball to 26 yards to their own 44, but on third and four, quarterback Tim Bona was picked off by Trevor Warner, returning the ball back to St. John’s and their star tailback.
This time the Pipers were not going to allow the junior to torch them, and they loaded the box to try to stop him from tearing their defense up on the ground. That was fine with the Johnnies, who turned to QB Nick Martin to make a play. On first and ten from the Hamline 49 that is just what he did. Martin found a streaking Dan Harrington and made a perfect pass that sprung the wide out for the 49-yard score, and a 21-0 lead. Martin did not have a huge day, going just 6-8 for 121 yards and three scores, but the play proved that when his team needed him he delivered, he would.
While the Johnnies were rolling on offense, the Pipers were being held down again. On their fourth series they were forced to punt after gaining just seven yards, putting St. John’s at their own 38. This time Sura and Martin combined to lead the drive, with Martin completing two passes on the possession to his star tailback for 49 total yards. The last was a 26-yard touchdown that moved the score to 28-0. The four-play drive took just 1:37 off the clock, and the Johnnies were scoring virtually at will, recording four touchdowns, and the two teams were still in the first quarter.
Both teams were forced to punt on their next possessions, but then Hamline began to mount a drive. They took the ball from their own 19, and moved 73-yards in 12 plays. Duncan was finally finding a little room behind his offensive line, and a 24-yard completion to Phillip Sherman made it first and goal from the Johnnies four-yard line. After a pass interference call gave the Pipers a fresh set of downs at the two, Duncan was stuffed by Matt Workman for a six-yard loss. On second and goal, Bona went back to pass and tried to hit a little flare in the flat, but he was picked off by Jeremy Piper, who returned the ball 42-yards.The Pipers came up empty again.
From their own 45, the Johnnies returned to their ground game as Sura rushed six times for 44 times, moving the ball to the Hamline seven. After a false start penalty moved the ball back five yards, Martin found T. J. Ford for the 12-yard strike and the 35-0 lead.
While the touchdown added to the rout, it also began a frantic run that saw touchdowns scored on five straight possessions. After the Johnnies touchdown, the Pipers finally got on the board when Ryan Ferkinhoff scored from two yards out to cap-off a seven-play, 74-yard drive.
Up 35-7, St. John’s turned to backup quarterback Johnny Benson, but saw no drop-off in the results. He completed two of his three passes on a 49-yard drive that led to a 29-yard touchdown grab by T.J. Ford. The score was Ford’s second of the day. He finished with just two catches on the afternoon, but the wide receiver sure made both count.
Bona responded with a nine-play drive that saw him throw in every play, completing seven of his passes, the last of which was a 12-yard touchdown pass to Hoyfal Adams. It was 42-14, but Hamline had scored on their last two possessions, and there was just five seconds left in the half. Clearly no further damage could be done. Think again.
The kickoff feel into Evan Clark’s hands at the 13. 87-yards later he was in the end zone, and the Johnnies had a 49-14 lead. It was an amazing run by Clark who found a seam and used a burst to take the ball to the house.
The first five possessions of the second-half saw nothing but punts. The Johnnies were comfortable simply sitting on their lead, while the defense continued to snuff out the Pipers offense. Finally on Hamline’s third possession they got back on the board.
Bona completed all three pass attempts on a six-play, 84-yard drive, including a 53-yard strike to Sherman for the score. On their next possession it was Bona again. He completed all four of his passes on the six-play drive, including a 52-yard catch and run to Ferkinhoff that made the score 49-28. That was the last touchdown that either team would produce.
The defense added two takeaways late in the game, crushing two drives by the Pipers before they really got started. Matt Hobby came up big for the Johnnies on both turnovers, recovering each one.
For the day the numbers were not exceptionally big for St. John’s. They had 206 yards through the air, and 183 on the ground. Sura had a modest day, by his standards, of 123 yards on the ground, but he also had 49 more through the air and scored three times.
The Pipers got some big numbers of their own, as Bona completed 23 of 40 passes for 304 yards and three scores, and Duncan had 135 yards on the ground on 30 carries. They were great numbers, which mostly came too late. The Johnnies defense dominated this game early on, and their offense delivered on eight of the first nine times they had the ball. A truly complete domination.
Next weekend, Hamline welcomes the 3-1 Bethel Royals. The Johnnies have a week off before traveling to play the high-flying Gustavus Adolphus Gusties.
By Robert Pannier