|Josh Parks led St. Thomas in rushing yards on Saturday.
Photo by Mark Brown, University of St. Thomas
COLLEGEVILLE – St. Thomas used five takeaways and survived a St. John's rally in the second half to defeat the Johnnies 33-21 Saturday in a matchup of two Top 10 teams in NCAA Division III.
The No. 6 Johnnies trailed 27-7 in the third quarter but scored twice to cut the St. Thomas lead to six points with five minutes to go in the game. The fourth-rated Tommies moved the ball to midfield, where freshman halfback Josh Parks broke loose for a 46-yard touchdown run to seal the game.
The victory, the third straight for St. Thomas over St. John's, came before 16,514 fans in Clemens Stadium, the second-largest recorded crowd in Division III football history behind last year's 17,327 for the St. Thomas-St. John's game here. The road team has won the last five regular-season games between the two teams.
A stiff and opportunistic defense that forced three St. John's fumbles in the first half led to all 20 of the Tommies' points before the break.
Ryan Winter recovered a St. John's fumble on its second play from scrimmage on the opening drive, and five plays later quarterback Alex Fenske scored on a 5-yard keeper. The extra point gave the Tommies a quick 7-0 lead.
On its next series, St. Thomas drove to the St John's 20 on the strength of 54 rushing yards from halfback Tucker Trettel, but the Johnnies blocked a 37-yard field goal attempt by Carter Schmitz. Four plays later, St. John's quarterback Jackson Erdmann found a receiver on a short pass route and a St. Thomas defender jarred the ball loose, but it was picked off in midair by receiver Evan Clark. He raced 68 yards down the sideline for a touchdown and a tie game at 7-7.
Three plays into the second quarter, Tommie linebacker Steve Harrell forced an Erdmann fumble on a sack – the first time he was sacked this season – and defensive end Anthony King-Foreman scooped up the ball and ran 57 yards for a touchdown and a 13-7 lead. The Johnnies blocked Schmitz's kick.
"It's something our coaches have been preaching all week, to get the ball on the ground and create turnovers," King-Foreman said after the game. "It's one of the No. 1 predictors of success for our team. I just happened to be in the right spot at the right time, picked it up, got a great block from Bennett Celichowski."
St. Thomas stopped St. John's on fourth down on the next series, thanks to an Adam Kraft sack, and took over at the Johnnies' 38. The Tommies drove to the St. John's 11 and kicked a field goal, but St. John's was whistled for roughing the kicker, leading to a St. Thomas first down. Two plays later, Trettel scored from the 5. Bryan Steinsaper made the extra point kick for a 20-7 lead.
St. John's drove to the St. Thomas 27 with a minute left in the first half, but another Johnnie fumble – this one recovered by Matt Mitchell – ended the threat.
St. John's outgained the Tommies 208 to 161 yards in the half; 130 of the St. Thomas yards came on the ground, with Trettel picking up 73 of them.
Erdmann's first interception of the year led to seven more St. Thomas points early in the third quarter. Cornerback Michael Alada picked off his third pass, and 10 plays later Josh Parks ran it in from the 2 for a 27-7 lead with 8:12 left in the third quarter.
Alada added another interception in the final minute to lock down the win.