November 8, 2003

Johnnies get Gagliardi record 409th career win

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St. John's Jeremy Goltz and Nick Thielman break up a pass intended for Bethel's John Croyle in the Johnnies' victory.
Photo by Pat Coleman, D3sports.com

COLLEGEVILLE, Minn. — Saint John's head coach John Gagliardi set the all-time collegiate football win record with a 29-26 come-from-behind win over Bethel on Saturday, Nov. 8, at Clemens Stadium. A record crowd of 13,107 fans braved cold November temperatures and wind chills to watch one of the most anticipated small-college football games in recent memory.

Gagliardi, in his 55th season and his 51st in Collegeville, got his 409th victory with the win, passing Eddie Robinson, who retired in 1997 after winning 408 career games in 55 seasons at Grambling State.

After a scoreless first quarter, Bethel opened the scoring as senior wide receiver John Kilde caught a 23-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Scott Kirchoff. The drive lasted 7:11 and covered 83 yards in 14 plays.

SJU responded as senior All-American wide receiver Blake Elliott caught a 15-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Ryan Keating. The extra-point failed and Bethel led 7-6.

Bethel scored on its next possession as junior wide receiver Zach Ludvigson caught a 29-yard touchdown pass from Kirchoff with 5:25 remaining in the half to pull ahead 14-6.

The Johnnies scored two touchdowns in the final 3:45 of the second quarter on scoring passes of 11 and 4 yards from Keating to senior wide receiver Jed Riegelman and Elliott, respectively, and SJU led 19-14 at halftime. The second score came after Bethel elected to go for it on fourth down at midfield. The attempt failed, giving St. John's the ball back.

"That was big," said Keating. "I thought they were going to punt it away."

Elliott's touchdown came as he outran triple coverage along the goal line. "The hardest part was the sun," which was glaring over Keating's shoulder. "I didn't see the ball for a long time."

The only scoring of the third quarter came with 1:10 left as freshman running back Ross Muellenberg scored on a 10-yard touchdown run. The two-point conversion attempt failed, making the score 20-19 in favor of the Royals.

The fourth quarter started as junior kicker Brandon Keller kicked a 25-yard field goal to give SJU a 22-20 lead. with 12:25 remaining in the game.

Bethel responded immediately with a 15-play, 60-yard drive that culminated in a 4-yard touchdown run by Kirchoff. Kirchoff was injured on the play and taken to the hospital. The two-point-conversion attempt failed and Bethel led 26-22.

The game-winning drive was started by a 50-yard kickoff return from Elliott and ended on a 5-yard touchdown pass from Keating to senior running back Josh Nelson with 2:03 remaining. Bethel had one last drive, but was halted on the first play because of a sack and fumble recovery by senior tackle Ryan Weinandt.

Jed Riegelman's touchdown catch cut the Bethel lead to 14-12 late in the second quarter.
Photo by Pat Coleman, D3sports.com

"Jeremy Hood came up with a huge hit," said Weinandt. "I just got lucky and fell on it."

The Johnnies had 431 yards total offense, compared to 350 total yards for the Royals. The Johnnies passed for 315 yards and rushed for 116 yards.

Bethel had 191 yards rushing and 159 yards passing. The Royals converted on 4-of-5 fourth-down conversions and 10-of-18 third-down conversions. Bethel owned the time of possession battle by a margin of 36:37 to 23:23 as all four Bethel scoring drives covered 60-plus yards.

SJU had two turnovers, while Bethel had one fumble lost. The Johnnies had five sacks in the game and eight of 12 third-down attempts.

Individually for the Johnnies, Elliott caught 15 passes for 163 yards and two touchdowns. Elliott's 15 catches was the second-most in SJU single-game history and he also extended his NCAA Division III record streak of a catch in 42 consecutive games. Elliott moved into second place on the NCAA Division III career reception list with 297 career receptions. Keating completed 32 of 45 passes for 315 yards and four touchdowns. Nelson rushed 14 times for 81 yards and caught six passes for 36 yards and the game-winning touchdown. In all, Elliott had 256 all-purpose yards -- 163 receiving yards, 80 kickoff return yards, 12 rushing yards and 1 punt return yard.

Defensively, Weinandt had 18 total tackles, 2.5 sacks for 15 yards, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and a blocked kick. Senior linebacker Cam McCambridge had 17 total tackles and a tackle for loss. Freshman linebacker Jamie Steffensmeier and sophomore tackle Damien Dumonceaux had 16 total tackles and 13 total tackles, respectively. Dumonceaux and senior end Jeremy Hood each had 1.5 sacks, which moved Hood within 2.5 sacks of the SJU all-time record.

Individually for the Royals, freshman running back Phil Porta rushed 29 times for 118 yards, while Kirchoff completed 10-of-16 passes for 137 yards and two touchdowns. Ludvigson caught three passes for 64 yards and one touchdown and Kilde caught two passes for 25 yards and one touchdown. Defensively, junior corner Jeremy Sather had 13 total tackles and a tackle for loss. Senior linebacker Matt Wassink had 10 total tackles for the Royals.

Gagliardi downplayed talks of retirement. "I never have thought about retiring. … So many guys retire and come back. There must be something there."

"Week in and week out he prepares us for that week's game," Nelson said of Gagliardi. "Eventually the wins will come. Eventually 409's gonna come."

SJU is now 9-0 overall for the first time since 1998 and 8-0 in the MIAC. The Johnnies have won 24 straight MIAC games, dating to the 2001 season.

Bethel ended the regular season with a 9-1 overall record and 7-1 in the MIAC. The Royals will hope for a Pool C bid into the 28-team NCAA Division III playoffs.

SJU has now won three in a row and is 23-2 all-time against the Royals.

SJU clinched its 10th MIAC title in the last 13 years, a MIAC record 27th overall conference title and 23rd MIAC title during the 51-year Gagliardi era at SJU. The Johnnies also secured its ninth NCAA playoff bid in the last 11 years.

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