Second Half Surge Has Johnnies Marching Past Royals, 31-25
The St. John’s Johnnies road an impressive second half surge to a 31-25 victory over the Bethel Royals on Saturday in a battle of highly ranked programs. The Johnnies dominated after the second half, scoring 17 points in the third quarter and 24 overall. Quarterback Aaron Syverson led the way, throwing for 278 yards and two touchdowns and Devin Voulk scored two touchdowns on the ground as part of an 89 yard day. That spoiled a big day for The Royals wide receiver Joey Kidder, who made four catches for 129 yards and a score.
Bethel took the opening kickoff and marched 63 yards in 13 place before taking a 6-0 lead. The drive was led by quarterback Jaran Roste, who kept the chains moving with three third-down conversions and a fourth-down completion for a touchdown. Each of the third-down conversions was for 7 yards or more. On the fourth and 4 at the St. John’s 19, Roste looked like he was going to keep the ball, been fired a perfect pass to Bryce Kunkle for the touchdown. The extra point was no good, and the Royals had a six-point lead.
On the first drive of the game for St. John’s, Nate Farm picked off a Syverson pass at the Bethel 21, returning it to the 44-yard line. However, the drive quickly stalled and the Royals were forced to punt.
The Bethel defense held the Johnnies to 44 yards through the first three possessions, but St. John’s would score on their fourth possession, moving 77 yards in 15 plays, as the drive took 7:31 off the clock. The Johnnies ran the ball nine times on the drive, but it was a big 24-yard completion by Syverson to Ravi Alston that put the ball down at the Bethel 20. On third and goal from the 12, the Johnnies quarterback found Alston once again, this time for a touchdown to give St. John’s a 7-6 lead. That would be the score at the half.
It had been an incredible defensive battle through the first 30 minutes, but the offenses for both teams came alive in the second half, combining to score 43 points. It started on the first possession of the second half, as St. John’s moved 58 yards in 14 plays before getting a 25 yard field goal from Conor Pavelko to extend their lead to four.
On the next possession for the Royals, Bethel was forced to punt, but punter Dane Schumacher dropped the snap, and was tackled at his own 31. Four plays later, Vouk scored from 4 yards out to give St. John’s a 17-6 lead.
The Royals responded right away, moving 70 yards in seven plays, taking just 1:51 off the clock. The big play of the drive came on the third play when the team was faced with a third and 5 at their own 35, Roste found Kidder for 26 yards and a first down. Two plays later, he found his receiver once again, this time for 35 yards. On first and goal from the one, Aaron Ellingson scored. The two-point conversion was no good, making it a 17-12 St. John’s lead.
The Johnnies responded right away, extending their lead back to 12. Syverson gave his team a big boost when he connected with Alston for 34 yards down to the Bethel 20. Five plays later, the St. John’s quarterback found Alex Larson for a nine-yard touchdown.
As they had before, Bethel responded right away, moving 71 yards in eight plays. This time it was the ground game that got things going, as Kunkle had a huge carry up the middle for 25 yards to take the ball to the St. John’s 26. It looked like disaster would strike when Roste was stripped of the ball by Carter Seymour, but he was able to recover his own fumble. Four plays later, Roste carried the ball to his left and scored, making a 24-19 game.
The key to this game was the ability of St. John’s to respond, and they did just that on their next possession. This was an incredibly impressive drive, needing just seven plays to move 92 yards before extending the lead back to 12. A pass interference call on second and 7 gave the Johnnies a fresh set of downs and Syverson had a big 22 yard completion to Tony Underwood that move the ball to the Bethel 47. On first and 10 at the Royals 34, Syverson connected with Alston for 33 yards down to the 1-yard line. Vouk scored on the next play to make it a 31-19 game.
With a little over five minutes left in the game, Bethel cut the deficit to six. After the defense forced a punt, the Royals gained possession of the ball at their own 36. It looked like they would be stopped as they faced a fourth and 4 at their own 42, but Roste found Kidder for a 58-yard touchdown strike to make it a 31-25 game.
The team hoped the defense could make one more big stop, but St. John’s would not give up the ball, running out the final five minutes to preserve the six point victory.
It was the impressive performance of the St. John’s defense that helped lead to the victory. They held Bethel to just 14 first downs and 61 yards rushing, as the Royals produced 294 total yards of offense. Octavius Wilson led the team with seven tackles. Syverson completed 23 of 37 passes for 278 yards and two touchdowns. Voulk carried the ball 24 times for 89 yards and two scores. Alston had a huge game, making 11 receptions for 159 yards and a score.
Roste finished 14-29 for 233 yards and two touchdowns. Kunkle led the team with 36 yards rushing on eight carries. Kidder had a big day, making four receptions for 129 yards and a score. On defense, the Royals produced three sacks. Thomas Wurdemann led the team with 14 tackles and had 0.5 sacks. Matt Feldick had 10 tackles.
The Bethel University Royals look to regroup next week as they welcome Gustavus Adolphus (3-0). Kickoff is scheduled for 1:00.
by Robert Pannier