Johnnies Defense Stiffens, St. John’s Win, 14-7
MENOMONIE, Wis. – No. 3 Saint John’s football battled through season-opening mistakes and rust to earn a 14-7 win at Wisconsin-Stout on Saturday, Sept. 7, in Menomonie, Wis.
The Johnnies erased a 7-0 deficit with 14 points over a 2:02 span in the third quarter. SJU tied the game with a 9-play, 79-yard scoring drive that ended with a 3-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Jackson Erdmann (Rosemount, Minn.) to junior running back Kenneth Udoibok (St. Paul, Minn./Cretin-Derham Hall) with 4:30 left in the third. The Johnnie defense forced a three-and-out and the offense wasted no time to take the lead, as Erdmann connected with sophomore running back Henry Trost (Lindstrom, Minn./Chisago Lakes) on a 46-yard touchdown pass on SJU’s first offensive play of the drive.
SJU’s defense stepped up all day long, posting seven sacks, 12 tackles for loss and three second-half interceptions in the victory. Stout’s second offensive possession was a 12-play, 77-yard scoring drive that ended on a 4-yard touchdown pass – on third-and-goal – with 4:25 left in the opening frame. The Blue Devils mustered only 100 yards of offense in the other 12 possessions.
Two of the Johnnies’ seven sacks were in succession at a key point of the game late in the fourth quarter. SJU was pinned back on its 4-yard line thanks to a 51-yard punt and Erdmann was intercepted on third-and-nine at the Johnnies’ 21-yard line. Senior Kyle Borgeson (Rochester, Minn./Lourdes) and junior Dom Nussmeier (Mankato, Minn./East) came up with the first sack on third-and-five from the 16-yard line, and junior Seth Morem (Red Wing, Minn.) and senior J.W. Windsor (Mesa, Ariz./Chandler) did the honors on fourth-and-nine to force the turnover on downs.
Cutting It Close
Stout had an opportunity to tie it on the game’s final drive with under a minute to play. Senior cornerback Chris Harris (Lake Elsinore, Calif.) looked to have ended the Blue Devils’ chances with an interception on fourth-and-10 from the Stout 44-yard line, but was called for pass interference. Stout answered with a 17-yard gain down to the Johnnies’ 25-yard line and spiked the ball to stop the clock for one final play with four seconds remaining. The prayer to the end zone fell to Johnnie-on-the-spot, Harris, for his second interception of the game as time expired.
A Wild Stretch
The game turned into a roller coaster of sorts near the end of the third quarter and spilled over to the fourth. After Erdmann found Trost for the 46-yard score and the 14-7 lead, senior safety Ryan LaCasse (Mountlake Terrace, Wash.) recorded the Johnnies’ first takeaway of the season with an interception and returned it 10 yards to the Blue Devils’ 24-yard line. The Johnnies were knocking on the door, but Udoibok was somehow stuffed on third-and-goal from the 3-yard line and stopped within a few inches of the goal line on fourth down.
Backed up in his own end zone, Stout quarterback Sean Borgerding heaved a pass on first down and Harris registered his first interception of the season. SJU mustered only 12 yards on the next seven offensive plays and junior Austin Solors’ (Elk River, Minn.) field-goal attempt from 38 yards out was blocked.
The season opener was not smooth, at least early, for the reigning Gagliardi Trophy recipient and D3football.com National Offensive Player of the Year. Erdmann threw an interception, while in the grasp of a defensive player, on his second pass attempt of the season and finished 2 of 8 passing for 23 yards and the pick in the first quarter (6 of 15 for 62 yards in the first half). He finished 20 of 35 passing for 235 yards and was sacked three times.
Senior wide receiver Andrew VanErp (Battle Lake, Minn./Ottertail Central) caught a career-high seven passes for 78 yards, while Trost totaled 115 all-purpose yards: 37 yards on nine carries, 56 yards on three receptions and a 22-yard kick return. Defensively, senior linebacker James Inman (Bismarck, N.D./Shiloh Christian) posted 10 tackles (three solo) and junior linebacker Danny Pietruszewski (South St. Paul, Minn.) recorded two sacks.
SJU is now 78-28-3 (.729) all-time in season openers, including a 7-0 record under the direction of head coach Gary Fasching ’81. The Johnnies have won each of their last 15 season openers, 16 of their last 17, and 32 of their last 36 (since 1984).
See You in Two Weeks
The Johnnies have their bye week before hosting Gustavus Adolphus in two weeks (Sept. 21) for the MIAC opener and Family Weekend in Collegeville.
By St. John’s Football Staff
Featured Image by Libby Auger