D-III's biggest crowd sees Tommies come away with W

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MINNEAPOLIS -- St. Thomas won its fourth consecutive game in the rivalry, and did so in front of a record crowd, defeating St. John's 20-17 at Target Field, the home of the Minnesota Twins. 

The No. 10-ranked Tommies held the No. 6 Johnnies to just 1 yard of rushing and 151 yards total as they improved to 3-1 in front of 37,355. The attendance more than doubled the previous high-water mark, which was set by last year's UW-Oshkosh game at UW-Whitewater, which drew 17,535. Four of the top five recorded attendances in Division III football history have been Tommie-Johnnie games. 

St. John's got on the board first after St. Thomas fumbled a punt and set the Johnnies up at the 25. St. Thomas responded later in the first quarter, as Jacques Perra hit Luke Iverson for a 35-yard pass into St. John's territory and later found tight end Matt Christenson in the end zone for a 31-yard touchdown.

The St. Thomas defense kept St. John's in check.
Austin Jochum reaches Jackson Erdmann for an 8-yard sack, forcing a Johnnie punt.
Photo by Caleb Williams, d3photography.com | More photos from this game
Gabe Green, Jeremy Molina and Matt Christenson celebrate Green's 61-yard touchdown catch.
Photo by Ryan Coleman, d3photography.com

The top five attended games all-time

37,355: St. Thomas vs. St. John's at Target Field, 9/23/17
17,535: UW-Oshkosh at UW-Whitewater, 10/8/16
17,327: St. Thomas at St. John's, 9/26/15
16,514: St. Thomas at St. John's, 9/24/16
16,421: St. Thomas at St. John’s, 10/2/10

The game, played on the Twins home field, featured the baseball diamond cutout.

St. Thomas extended the lead to 14-3. Austin Jochum sacked Johnnies quarterback Jackson Erdmann to back the Johnnies up and a short punt left UST on its own 39. One play later, Perra was hitting Gabe Green for a 61-yard post route to take the lead. But St. John's answered with a quick strike late in the half as Erdmann found Jared Streit for a 31-yard score. 

Then, the Tommies offense took over. St. Thomas held the ball for all but 5:10 of the second half. St. John's had zero third-down conversions and finished with just six first downs in the game. 

"If you look at the stats, it's easy to see what happened," St. John's coach Gary Fasching said. "St. Thomas ran almost double the plays we did (76-43) and had much bigger time of possession. Give them credit. We couldn't run the football." 

Nonetheless, the Johnnies had a chance to win the game. St. Thomas took a 20-10 lead as Bryan Steinsapir connected on a 43-yard field goal to finish a 12-play drive with 4:30 left in the third quarter. And the Johnnies, despite rushing for minus-7 yards in the second half, were able to make some plays.

It started with Sam Westby, who intercepted Perra in the end zone as St. Thomas was threatening to take a three-score lead. Later in the quarter, after a partially blocked punt, Erdmann hit Dan Harrington for an 11-yard completion, then went up the sidelines for Evan Clark for a 40-yard touchdown pass, cutting the lead to 20-17. The Johnnie defense then forced a three-and-out, but Erdmann threw two incomplete passes sandwiched around a 9-yard gain. On fourth-and-1, Erdmann went back to Streit, who had just dropped a pass. This time, Adam Brant knocked the ball out and St. John's turned the ball over on downs. 

"I just wanted our guys not to get too caught up in the game that they couldn't enjoy the moment that was out there," said St. Thomas coach Glenn Caruso. "There have been a lot of great football teams and a lot of games and a lot of rivalry games over 100 years in college football and 40 years of Division III and for us to be the team that's blessed with the opportunity to be able to set the attendance record and do so in fine fashion is an absolute honor.

"I told these guys, 'This is something you'll remember for the rest of your life,' " said Fasching. "They probably don't realize that until after the game, what they did, but it was a great showcase. I just wish we could have come out on top."

It's the first time St. Thomas has won four in a row in the rivalry since 1954-57, starting with the second year of John Gagliardi's coaching stint at SJU.

Perra completed 12 of 24 passes for 230 yards and two touchdowns, with one interception. Senior fullback Jeremy Molina had a career-best 61 rushing yards on nine carries. UST's Austin Jochum had 2.5 tackles for loss with one solo and two assisted sacks, and senior linebacker Dylan Andew was in on eight tackles.

Erdmann completed 10 of 22 passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns.

Luke Iverson beats Nathan Lortz for an amazing first quarter catch, setting up the Tommies' first score of the game.
Photo by Ryan Coleman, d3photography.com
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