COLLEGEVILLE, MINN. — The Saint John's University football team out scored the University of Redlands 17-3 in the fourth quarter to come-from-behind and defeat the Bulldogs 31-24 in the first round of the NCAA Division III football playoffs at a cold and windy Clemens Stadium on the SJU campus in Collegeville, Minn.
SJU opened the game by taking the kickoff and going 80 yards in nine plays as senior Kent Crowley scored on a 20-yard run. The touchdown was the only scoring of the first quarter.
The second quarter saw the Bulldogs score two straight touchdowns as junior Justin Wilcox caught passes of 13 and 91 yards from senior Clay Groefsma and Redlands led 14-7 with 1:53 left in the half. The Johnnies responded as junior Blake Elliott caught an 11-yard touchdown pass from senior Ross Denne with 59 seconds left and the game was knotted at 14-14 after 30 minutes.
The only scoring of the third quarter was junior Jake Smeltzer catching a 21-yard touchdown pass from Groefsma and the Bulldogs led 21-14 entering the fourth quarter.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, sophomore Lee Clintsman caught a 42-yard touchdown pass from Denne to tie the game at 21-21. With 8:40 left in the game, senior kicker Sean Lipscomb kicked a 26-yard field goal to take a 24-21 lead and there was a possibility that SJU would lose a first round NCAA playoff game for the first time since 1985. SJU then tied the game with 3:18 remaining as sophomore Brandon Keller kicked a 27-yard field goal against a stiff wind. After recovering a fumble at the Bulldog 16-yard line with 2:21 left, Elliott scored seven plays later on a two-yard run with 46 seconds remaining to give SJU the 31-24 win.
SJU had 554 yards total offense, compared to 442 for Redlands. The Johnnies passed for 376 yards and rushed for 178 yards. The Bulldogs had 378 yards passing and only 64 yards rushing. SJU was plagued by seven turnovers, which led to 17 points for Redlands. In total there were 12 turnovers in the game. SJU scored 14 points off of Bulldog turnovers.
Individually, SJU was led by Kent Crowley, who rushed 23 times for 122 yards and one touchdown. Ross Denne was 26-of-42 passing for 376 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. Blake Elliott caught nine passes for 134 yards, one touchdown receiving and one touchdown rushing. Elliott set a new SJU single-season reception record in the game as he now has 88 receptions in 2002. Juniors Paul Schreiner and Cam McCambridge had 13 and 10 total tackles, respectively.
For the Bulldogs, Clay Groefsma was 23-of-44 passing for 378 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions. SJU caught Groefsma seven times for sacks in the game. Justin Wilcox caught seven passes for 135 yards and two touchdowns. Junior Les Simon rushed 23 times for 70 yards. Senior Jeff Thomas had three interceptions in the game, which tied a NCAA Division III playoff game record. Junior Chris Mankin had 11 total tackles for the Bulldogs.
SJU improved to 10-1 overall. The Johnnies have now won 10 straight games this season. SJU is making its fifth straight NCAA appearance, eighth in the last 10 years and 14th overall in school history. The Johnnies now have a 24-12 record in NCAA playoff games. SJU is now 12-2 all-time in the first round of the NCAA playoffs and have won its last 11 first round NCAA games. SJU head coach John Gagliardi, celebrating his 50th season at SJU, now has 398 career wins and is two wins away from 400 and 11 wins away from the all-time collegiate record.
Redlands ended the season 7-3 overall in its third NCAA appearance in school history. The Bulldogs are 0-3 al-time in NCAA playoff games.