Although the Gustavus football team outgained Saint John's 328 yards to 219, and held the time of possession advantage 36:22 to 23:38, the Johnnies both scored and got stops when they needed to. Saint John's used a late fourth quarter touchdown to go up 24-16 before shutting the Gustavus offense down on its final two drives to hold on for the victory on Hollingsworth Field Saturday afternoon.
The Gusties fall to 1-6 overall and 1-4 in the MIAC, while Saint John's improves to 3-4 overall and 2-3 in the MIAC.
"I feel for our guys because they've worked incredibly hard and to be on the backside of some these losses the past few weeks is very difficult," said Head Coach Peter Haugen. "I'm very proud of them for sticking together and continuing to fight. Certainly today was a game that we could have won."
Gustavus could not have scripted a better start to the football game after taking a 9-0 lead by the 6:14 mark of the first quarter after a 27-yard field goal by Tom Huepenbecker and one-yard touchdown plunge by Phillip Butler.
Following Huepenbecker's field goal, Gustavus' Mitch Kleinschrodt recovered an onside kick on the ensuing kick-off. Quarterback Logan Becker went 4-for-4 for 22 yards passing while scrambling for another 18 yards before Butler capped the drive with a touchdown.
All it took was a Jimmie Mattson field goal for Saint John's to gain some momentum and come storming back. That field goal happened to be a 52-yard boomer that sparked a 17-0 Johnnie scoring run. Mattson's field goal is the longest made on the turf of New Hollingsworth Field.
Gustavus turned the ball over on its next two possessions, coughing the ball up on an Elliott Herdina fumble and a Logan Becker interception. Gustavus' defense came up big after the first give-away when Mitch Kleinschrodt picked off Ben Krebsbach's pass on the Gustavus five-yard-line, returning it to the 23. The Gustie D was not so fortunate following Bobby Fischer's interception off Becker, as Krebsbach scored from three yards out to put Saint John's up 10-9.
The Johnnies would cap the scoring spree with less than a minute remaining in the half. In what turned out to be a major difference in the contest, Connor Bruns, on his first snap of the game at quarterback, hit receiver Sam Pederson on a deep post for a 45-yard touchdown to extend Saint John's lead to 17-9.
After forcing a three-and-out on Saint John's opening drive of the second half, Gustavus cut the lead to 17-16 following a 26-yard touchdown strike from Becker to Herdina on a skinny post. The score capped an 11-play 77-yard drive at the 7:59 mark of the third quarter. Herdina finished the game with four catches for 51 yards.
The Gusties trailed by a point (17-16) until Saint John's broke the scoring drought at the 3:42 mark of the fourth quarter. Using a short field following a sack and a short Gustavus punt, Saint John's Stephen Johnson capped a five-play 43-yard drive with a five-yard touchdown to extend the lead to 24-16. Johnson led the Johnnies on the ground with 22 carries for 55 yards.
Gustavus' offense had two chances at game-tying drives at with less than four minutes to play in the game, yet the Johnnie defense held strong when it needed to most, forcing a turnover on downs and an interception to seal the victory. Cornerback Bobby Fisher certainly got the game ball after picking off a Becker in the flats with less than 1:30 on the clock to seal the victory for the Johnnies.
"We had an opportunity at the end to put a drive together, but we just weren't able to do it. That's the way it has been for us," explained Haugen about the end of the game. "We know that the margin for error is small and that if we make a couple plays that it could chance the outcome."
Becker finished 23-of-40 for 246 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. The Gustie quarterback found seven different receivers, as Muresuk Mena had five catches for 48 yards, Cody Williams brought in four grabs for 62 yards, and Andre Creighton added four catches for 44 yards. Jeffrey Dubose led the Gusties on the ground with 32 yards on nine carries.
Johnnie punter Scott Ramey played a significant role in the field position game throughout the afternoon, recording seven punts for 259 yards for an average of 37.0 yards per punt. Four of Ramey's punts were downed inside Gustavus' 20-yard-line.
Saint John's starter Ben Krebsbach was 3-for-12 for 57 yards in the passing game, while running three times for 21 yards. Connor Bruns finished 6-of-8 for 75 yards to lead the way. Sam Pederson caught two passes for a game-high 75 yards, while Brent Grabowski had four catches for 51 yards.
The Gustavus defense gave up 74 yards on the ground and 145 yards through the air, forcing five straight punts on Saint John's opening five drives of the second half. Jason Cook and Joe Haas led the defense with eight tackles each.
The Gustavus football team will be back on the field Saturday, Oct. 29 when it travels to St. Paul to take on MIAC leader St. Thomas at 1:10 p.m.
"We'll get ready for St. Thomas and are excited about the game. Any time you get an opportunity to play a team like St. Thomas its great for the team," Haugen commented.