Eleventh-ranked St. Thomas (3-1) and No. 6 St. John’s (3-1) played their 87th meeting at Target Field in Minneapolis, the home ball park for the Minnesota Twins. Based in St. Paul, St. Thomas gave up a home contest to have a neutral site contest with its rival 97 miles up Interstate 94 in Collegeville.
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"Hats off to the Twins," Tommies coach Glenn Caruso said. "There’s just absolutely no way that something like this could even have been perceived to be as great as it was."
Their new record eclipsed the 17,535 Wisconsin-Whitewater and Wisconsin-Oshkosh had in 2016. St. John’s and St. Thomas had the record before 2016 with 17,327 in Collegeville for their 2015 clash. ESPN’s Sports Center on the Road program came out for that game.
A neutral site contest this time brought 20,000 more fans, which included large cheering sections for both schools. Kickers for both teams found that out for kicking field goals as each had to hit one facing a sea of opposing fans.
St. John’s got on the board first with Zach Barwick drilling one from 31-yards in the first quarter toward a left field section filled with purple-clad Tommies fans. Bryan Steinsapir nailed one for St. Thomas from 43 yards against a first base line backdrop of red-clad Johnnies fans in the third quarter.
"That felt good," Caruso said. "He is a phenomenal kicker."
Steinsapir’s kick gave St. Thomas a 20-10 lead. He also hit from 34 yards on the Tommies side late in the first half for a 17-10 edge. Tommies quarterback Jaques Perra put his team ahead for the first time on a 31-yard touchdown pass to Matt Christenson near the home plate circle in the first quarter.
Perra then connected with Gabe Green for a 61-yard TD in the second quarter. St. Thomas’ defense did its part by stuffing the Johnnies’ running game with one yard allowed on 20 attempts. St. John’s came in averaging 339.9 yards per game.
"Our game plan going in was to try establish the run game," Johnnies coach Gary Fasching said. "It certainly felt like we could do that, but they really shut it down." It didn’t stifle the Johnnies too much though. Quarterback Jackson Erdmann fired TD passes of 31 and 40 yards to Jared Streit and Evan Clark respectively.
St. Thomas won its fourth straight over the Johnnies in a rivalry that dates back to 1901. The rivalry picked up steam in the past 10 years with both teams consistently in the top 10 of D3 football. St. Thomas has appeared in two Stagg Bowl national title games since 2011, and St. John’s has six playoff appearances since 2007.