Saint John's scores twice in final minute to win opener
RIVER FALLS, Wis. – Saint John's University freshman Alexi Johnson (Shakopee, Minn.) made a 40-yard field goal with two seconds remaining to give the Johnnies a 17-14 win to open the 2013 season, and Gary Fasching's collegiate coaching career, at Wisconsin-River Falls on Friday, Sept. 6.
SJU scored 10 points in the final 3:04. The Johnnies tied the game on a 2-yard run by senior Jake Essler (New London, Minn./New London-Spicer), his second of the game, with 55 seconds left. The scoring drive spanned 74 yards on 11 plays and ticked 2:09 off the clock. SophomoreNick Martin (Plymouth, Minn./Wayzata) connected with senior Blake Belland (Chaska, Minn.) for a 20-yard gain on fourth-and-11, and then with sophomore Josh Bungum (Paynesville, Minn.) for 29 yards, on the game-tying drive.
UWRF gained only one yard on three plays, burning 32 seconds off
the clock, on the ensuing drive. Martin hit senior Ben
Krebsbach (Plymouth, Minn./Benilde-St. Margaret's)
for a 39-yard gain on first down to set up Johnson's game-winning
The Falcons marched 57 yards on 12 plays during the opening drive, but the 39-yard attempt from the UWRF freshman kicker, Taylor Johnson, fell well short. The Johnnies took over and chewed up 78 yards on 11 plays, ending on Essler's first 2-yard score of the game with 5:34 left in the first quarter.
River Falls answered right back with a 73-yard scoring drive, on only nine plays. On first-and-goal from the 19, quarterback Ryan Kusilek scrambled right and found Charles Dixon all alone in the back of the end zone to tie the game. UWRF went three-and-out to start the drive, but SJU was called for offsides on the punt (on fourth-and-one), giving the home team a fresh set of downs from its own 41.
Both teams exchanged a pair of punts before SJU took over one its own 40-yard line with 5:27 left in the first half. On third-and-eight, junior J.T. Ford (Stevens Point, Wis.) got behind the Falcons' defense but the likely touchdown pass from Martin slipped through his hands.
SJU cruised on its opening drive of the second half before stalling at the UWRF 29. The snap on fourth-and-one went wide of Martin, however, and the Johnnies were forced to turn the ball over on downs.
The Falcons moved down to the Johnnies' 17-yard line but Johnson's field goal from 34 yards out went wide right.
The Johnnies threw a deep interception on first down and shanked a punt on the next possession. UWRF took advantage of the shift in momentum with a 66-yard scoring drive, ending on another Kusilek-to-Dixon touchdown from 19 yards out, on third-and-16. The extra point gave River Falls a 14-7 lead with 14:45 remaining.
Both teams exchanged a pair of punts once again until SJU took over on its own 26 with 3:04 to play. As mentioned above, Martin extended the drive with a 20-yard strike to Belland on fourth-and-11, and then re-connected with the senior for 17 yards on third-and-10. Martin hit Bungum on consecutive passes for 29 and seven yards before Essler's game-tying score. The Johnnies initially looked to go for the two-point conversion, but a delay-of-game penalty moved the ball back to the eight. Johnson connected with the abnormal extra point to tie the game.
UWRF gained three yards on first down, out of bounds, before junior Matt Workman (Minneapolis, Minn./Holy Angels) sacked Kusilek on second down and dropped him for a three-yard loss on third down, forcing the punt with under 30 seconds left.
Martin hit Krebsbach for the 39-yard gain, out to the UWRF 23, on first down. His second-down pass fell incomplete, leaving six seconds left on the clock for Johnson's game-winner.
Essler led the Johnnies' ground game with 65 yards on nine carries. Martin added 31 yards on 13 attempts and freshman Jakob Certeza(Temecula, Calif./Great Oak) added 29 yards on five carries. Martin finished the night 13 of 28 passing for 184 yards. Bungum snagged seven passes for 63 yards and Belland finished with 54 yards on three catches. Krebsbach recorded two catches for 52 yards.
Sophomore Nick Simon (New Ulm, Minn./Cathedral) led the SJU defense with nine tackles (six solo), while senior Darryl Williams(Hawthorne, Calif./Verbum Dei) added eight (six solo). Sophomore Blake Bellefeuille (Sartell, Minn./St. Cloud Cathedral) posted seven tackles, including two for a loss.
Kusilek posted 344 yards of total offense in the game, 106 on 18 carries and another 238 thru the air (22 of 35 passing). Dixon accounted for 130 yards on seven receptions.
UWRF out-gained the visiting Johnnies 413-323 in the game but was hampered by 10 penalties for 90 yards. SJU was six of 14 on third down but a perfect 2-for-2 in the red zone, while the Falcons were 2-for-4.
The Johnnies return home to host Wisconsin-Eau Claire for a 1 p.m. kickoff on Saturday, Sept. 14, at Clemens Stadium in Collegeville. The matchup will also be the Johnnies' Tackle Cancer game to benefit the Randy Shaver Cancer Research and Community Fund. Monetary donations will be collected throughout the stadium.