Elliott, Keating lead St. John's past Linfield
St. John's senior wide receiver Blake Elliott had 294 all-purpose yards, while senior quarterback Ryan Keating ran for two touchdowns and threw for another in a 31-25 win over Linfield in a NCAA Division III playoff quarterfinal game on Saturday, Dec. 6, at Clemens Stadium.
The Johnnies were stopped on four plays from first-and-goal at the 3-yard line on their first possession of the game. SJU did get on the scoreboard first with 6:25 left in the first quarter as Keating scored on a 1-yard quarterback keeper.
At 13:29 of the second quarter, Linfield scored on a 24-yard field goal by sophomore kicker Garrett Wales and SJU led 7-3. The Wildcats drove 51 yards on 13 plays in 4:47 to set up the field goal.
Senior running back Josh Nelson scored on an 8-yard touchdown pass from Keating with 4:09 left to increase its lead to 14-3.
The Wildcats raced right back as sophomore wide receiver Casey Allen caught touchdown passes of 5 and 32 yards from senior quarterback Tyler Matthews and Linfield led 15-14 with 39 seconds left in the half. The first extra point was blocked and the two-point conversion on the second touchdown failed for the Wildcats.
SJU went right back down the field on three pass completions as junior kicker Brandon Keller hit a 34-yard field goal with two seconds remaining to give the Johnnies at 17-15 lead. The Johnnies have not trailed at intermission all season.
The only scoring of the third quarter was a 30-yard field goal by Wales and Linfield led 18-17 going into the final quarter.
With 12:42 to play, Keating scored his second rushing touchdown of the game on a 14-yard scamper and SJU led 24-18. The touchdown capped an 11-play, 91-yard drive that consumed 5:01.
The Johnnies increased their lead as Elliott scored on a 15-yard run with 2:15 left to make the score 31-18.
The Wildcats drove right down the field and scored on a 12-yard touchdown pass from Matthews to junior wide receiver Josh Armstrong to cut the lead to 31-25. The drive took all of 52 seconds and covered 80 yards in seven plays.
The Johnnies recovered the on-side kick and punted after three plays. Linfield got the ball at its 34-yard line with 41 seconds remaining, but an interception by senior safety Jeremy Goltz at the six-yard line sealed the victory for the Johnnies.
The stats were fairly even as SJU had 438 yards total offense, compared to 405 yards for Linfield. The Johnnies rushed for 260 yards on 52 attempts and gained 178 yards in the air. The Wildcats were held to 67 yards rushing on 25 attempts, but collected 338 yards from the passing game.
Linfield had three turnovers, compared to two for the Johnnies. SJU held a 35:33 to 24:27 advantage in time of possession.
The Wildcats were 2-for-16 on third downs, but 4-for-4 on fourth down conversions. The Johnnies were 6-for-15 on third downs.
Individually, Elliott carried the ball 15 times for 136 yards and one touchdown, while Nelson had 20 carries for 88 yards.
Keating was 19-for-26 passing for 178 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Nelson caught six passes for 79 yards and one touchdown, while Lee Clintsman had 50 yards on five catches. Elliott, winner of this year's Gagliardi Trophy for the outstanding player in NCAA Division III football, was held to 23 yards on four catches, but had the 136 yards rushing, 25 yards on three punt returns and 110 yards on five kickoff returns. Elliott extended his Division III record by catching a pass in his 45th consecutive game.
Punter Charlie Carr had five punts for an average of 32.2 yards, but had a 56-yarder and a key punt on a bad snap with Linfield leading 18-17 in the third quarter.
Defensively, junior linebacker Paul Gans had eight total tackles, while freshman linebacker Jamie Steffensmeier and senior safety Cole Deibele each had seven tackles. Deibele had an interception and two pass break-ups. Goltz and sophomore corner Mike Zauhar each had interceptions and senior end Jeremy Hood collected one sack to move within a half a sack from setting the SJU all-time career sack record.
For the Wildcats, Matthews was 21-of-44 passing for 338 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions. Allen had seven catches for 141 yards and two touchdowns.
Junior wide receiver George Carter gained 38 yards on four rushing attempts and junior running back Thomas Ford had 24 yards on nine carries. Ford entered the game averaging 102.5 yards rushing per game.
Junior punter James Wilson averaged 41.3 yards on six punts, including a long of 67 yards.
Defensively, senior linebacker Harris Bertsch had 15 total tackles, two tackles for loss and an interception. Junior rover Zach Fleming, sophomore back Josh Ort and senior back Ike Ellis each had 10 total tackles.
SJU improves to 12-0 overall, while Linfield ends the season 11-1 overall. SJU won its 12th game this season for the third time in school history. SJU is making its 15th overall and ninth NCAA playoff appearance in the last 11 years. SJU now has a 28-13 record in NCAA playoff games.
SJU will now be making its fourth consecutive appearance in the NCAA semifinals and ninth overall in school history. The Wildcats are 3-3 all-time in three NCAA playoff appearances.
The Johnnies lead the all-time series with the Wildcats 3-0 and have won both NCAA playoff meetings. SJU defeated Linfield 33-0 in the 1965 NAIA national championship game and 21-14 in the 2002 NCAA quarterfinals, as John Gagliardi won his 400th career game.
SJU has now won 21 straight games and six straight NCAA playoff games at Clemens Stadium. In its last 98 games at Clemens Stadium, dating back to 1987, SJU has a record of 88-9-1.
SJU head coach John Gagliardi, in his 55th season and his 51st in Collegeville, extended his all-time collegiate record of 412 career wins.
SJU will host RPI (11-1) on Saturday, Dec. 13, in the semifinals of this year's NCAA Division III playoffs. RPI defeated Ithaca 21-16 on Saturday, Dec. 6, in another quarterfinal game.