By Adam Johnson
St. Thomas fans had every reason to believe the outcome of this year’s Johnnie-Tommie game would be different.
Glenn Caruso, the up-and-comer, had replaced Don Roney, the nice guy, as head coach after a 10-year reign of mediocre football for the biggest school in the MIAC.
The Tommies were favored on paper, carrying a one loss record into the game compared to two blemishes on the Johnnies’ season.
Frustrated with their team, a few nameless Johnnie fans and prognosticators had even predicted a Tommie victory.
If that wasn’t enough, Caruso exercised his flair for the dramatic by outfitting the team in full purple uniforms and bringing them out from both corners of the football field for a midfield mosh pit to open the game.
“The kids love those pants,” said Caruso.
There was a feel in the air that this was finally the year after 10 consecutive losses in what was once a storied rivalry. After two decades of defeat and a 3-16 record in the rivalry since 1990, it was time for the Tommies to win on the field instead of just winning the creative T-shirt battle off of it.
St. Thomas opened on defense and quickly took the ball away via interception after just three plays by the Johnnie offense. When Jake Friederichs caught a 21-yard strike from David Sauer to cap the Tommies’ first offensive series, it was the first lead for the perennial underdogs in the series since the fourth quarter of a 15-12 loss in 2003.
Even when the Johnnies scored early in the second quarter, their missed PAT by the sure footed Russell Gliadon signified that things were still not functioning on all cylinders.
The Johnnies scored the only points of the third quarter on a one yard run by backup quarterback Joe Boyle who was playing for the pulled Justin Hansel. Leading by only five points, the Johnnies went for two but Boyle’s pass fell incomplete.
With 3:10 left in the fourth, the Johnnies gave the Tommies two points on a safety in an attempt to gain better field position on the next series. The Johnnies still led 12-9.
“They came to me,” said offensive coordinator Jim Gagliardi. “And I said you guys decide.” The Johnnie defense had been playing extremely well and Gliadon’s kickoffs had been covering good distance.
The Tommies returned the kickoff to their own 44-yard line and mounted their final comeback.
Sauer completed four of five passes to march the Tommies down to the 1-yard line with 57 seconds remaining.
On first and goal, Sauer handed off to sophomore Ben Wartman, who had been a workhorse all afternoon, tallying 90 yards on 23 carries.
His 24th carry appeared to give the Tommies their first victory in the series since 1997. He lunged through the trenches for the end zone but officials ruled him down at the 1 for no gain.
“We thought it was fairly clear that he broke the plane by a good bunch,” said Caruso. “But the officials did not see it fit to call it.”
On their second attempt at victory, the handoff from Sauer to Ryan McCarthy was fumbled on the Johnnie 2-yard line and recovered by St. John’s.
“We had opportunities after that play to win but we gave those away,” said Caruso.
Two plays later, the Johnnies had their 11th consecutive victory in the series and fifth straight victory on the Tommies home turf.
After the game, video evidence and still photographs showed that Wartman had crossed the plane on first and goal.
“No, I think we’re going to hand them that win,” said Jim Gagliardi concerning the postgame controversy.
Gagliardi pointed out several other controversial calls in the game but said those are bound to happen in a game as highly contested as this rivalry.
“We’re perfectly satisfied with this 11th straight win,” said Gagliardi.
Carleton lost its first game of the season Saturday 30-29 to Gustavus after having a chance to win in regulation and tie in overtime. The Knights tied the game on a 5-yard pass to Dylan Bothun from Shane Henfling with 10 seconds remaining and needed a Tim Kane extra point to seal the home victory and stay undefeated. The Gustie got penetration and swatted the ball away to force overtime.
The Gusties scored first and kicked the PAT. Carleton came back and scored on a 5-yard Henfling run but again were unable to convert the PAT losing their first game by one point.
Senior defensive end Brian Berglund was credited with both PAT blocks and awarded MIAC Special Teams Player of the Week.
Linfield kicker Scott Birkhofer was only 2-4 on field goals in Saturday’s 55-7 blowout of Lewis and Clark but the distance of the attempts is staggering. He missed his first two kicks in the second quarter but they were from 46 and a whopping 57 yards out. He bounced back in the third quarter booming two through the uprights from 52 and 56 yards. The latter broke his own school record of 54 yards set earlier this year. He was also a perfect 7-7 on PATs for the day.
The Bethel Royals made their way down field following Hamline’s score with 34 ticks remaining to take a 7-6 lead. They made it to the Hamline 13-yard line before sending out freshman Matt Wetherell to win it with two seconds left on the clock.
Time out! The Pipers tried to ice the Royals rookie kicker. After returning to the field again, the Royals lined it up and ... time out.
Again the Pipers attempted to get between the kicker’s ears. Wetherell, the reigning conference special teams player of the week, didn’t flinch and sailed the 30-yard field goal through the uprights as time expired.
The 9-7 win kept Bethel in the hunt and dropped Hamline to its fifth straight MIAC loss including four by a combined 15 points.
In what can only be considered a statistical oddity, the Luther Norse knocked off IIAC leading Buena Vista 6-3 on Saturday. The Norse tallied seven less first downs, 21 less offensive plays, 104 less yards of total offense and over three less minutes of possession, yet still managed to prevail in a game that saw no scoring after the three minute mark of the first quarter.
UW Stout lost to UW Stevens Point Saturday in a game that saw 24 more flags thrown than touchdown passes. The Blue Devils were whistled 14 times for 147 yards worth of penalties. The Pointers were no less prone to penalties, getting whistled 13 times for 107 yards. On one drive the Pointers were flagged for three consecutive penalties forcing a first down and 35 which led to an eventual punt.
On the day the teams combined for 254 penalty yards, 27 penalties, 13 punts and three touchdowns. No word if Tide is considering sponsorship of this game next year.
The Redlands Bulldogs used six interceptions by a stingy defense to cruise to a 53-14 victory over Whittier College. The game was relatively close in the third quarter until Conor Drake blew it wide open. With 4:17 to play in the quarter Drake picked off a Taylor Fallon pass and returned it 24 yards for the touchdown. Just over two minutes later, Fallon was again the victim of a 24-yard interception return by Drake which led to a 46-14 lead for the Buldogs. On the day, Drake scored as many touchdowns as the Poets entire receiving corps.
La Verne beat Pomona-Pitzer on Saturday 45-37 in what has to be a single game record for touchdowns scored by guys with four letter last names. Five players with four-letter last names posted six touchdowns including two by La Verne’s Curtis Puli and one each by teammates Wesley Dean and Charles Lacy. Pomona-Pitzer’s Aaron Fong and Robert Maki each contributed touchdowns. Missing out by one letter were Russell Oka from Pomona Pitzer and Phi Van Le from La Verne.
• Willamette held the Pacific Lutheran rushing attack to 26 yards on 24 carries for a 1.1 yards per carry average.
• St. Scholastica defensive end Travis Larson had four sacks, all in the first half, including one for a safety in the Saints 35-14 loss to Northwestern.
• Whitworth’s Adam Anderson ran for 214 yards and tied a Whitworth record with four touchdowns to lead the Pirates to a 35-7 win over visiting Puget Sound.
• UW-La Crosse ended its longest losing streak to open a season at five games with a 37-6 victory over UW-Platteville.
• Wartburg junior quarterback Nick Yordi became the fourth member of the school’s 4,000 yard club in Saturday’s 35-7 victory over Loras.
• Gustavus Adolphus wide receiver Chad Arlt currently stands at 204 career receptions, joining P.J. Theisen of St. Thomas, Scott Hvistendahl of Augsburg, Jim Bradford of Carleton, and Blake Elliott and Adam Herbst of St. John's as the only players in MIAC history to reach the 200-catch milestone.
A special thanks to the West region SIDs and their respective school's athletic departments for their hard work in promoting their school's football teams.