COLLEGEVILLE, Minn. — No. 7/8 Saint John's football forced seven turnovers and rode a record-breaking passing attack to an emotional 40-20 win over No. 3 St. Thomas on Saturday, Oct. 13, in front of an announced crowd of 16,922 spectators in Collegeville.
Junior quarterback Jackson Erdmann set a school record with 470 passing yards, on 28 of 53 passing, and three touchdowns in the victory. Fourteen of his completions were to senior wide receiver Will Gillach, who turned them into an SJU-record 256 yards and two scores.
The Tommies (5-1, 3-1 MIAC) were inches from making it a one-score game early in the fourth quarter, but junior linebacker Alex Sais forced a fumble on the one-yard line and All-American safety Max Jackson scooped it up for a 99-yard return for a touchdown.
The two teams combined for 1,149 yards of offense on 172 plays.
The Johnnies' victory snapped the Tommies' 31-game win streak against conference opponents (30-game regular season, one playoff). SJU (6-0, 5-0 MIAC) is now 52-35-1 all-time against UST, including a 25-12-1 record in Collegeville.
Saturday's game was the first for an SJU football program that lost its legendary coach, John Gagliardi, who passed away Oct. 7 at the age of 91. College football's all-time wins leader, Gagliardi totaled a 489-138-11 record in 64 seasons (465-132-10 record in 60 seasons at SJU). He was 43-17 against St. Thomas. Visitation is 4-8 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 14, at Saint John's Abbey Church in Collegeville and continues from 9-10:45 a.m. Monday, Oct. 15, prior to the Mass of Christian Burial at 11 a.m.
MORE: College football's all-time winningest coach John Gagliardi passes away at the age of 91
Throw Out the Stats
Saturday's statistics were mind-bending, considering where both teams stood nationally prior to kickoff. UST made the trip to Collegeville Saturday ranked first in NCAA Division III in total defense (124.8 ypg.) and second in four other categories: passing defense (109.8 ypg.), pass-efficiency defense (73.5), scoring defense (5.6 ppg.) and scoring offense (61.2 ppg.). SJU, meanwhile, was third nationally in scoring defense (5.8 ppg.) and 14th in total defense (233.8 ypg.).
Erdmann broke two SJU single-game records Saturday: passing yards (470) and yards of total offense (456). The previous school record for passing yards, 435, was set by Kurt Ramler '97 on Oct. 12, 1996, at Gustavus Adolphus. Pat Mayew '92 totaled 442 yards of offense against St. Thomas on Sept. 14, 1991.
Erdmann's 53 pass attempts tied Jordan Hansel '10 (Oct. 4, 2008 at Bethel) for the second-most in a game by a Johnnie. The record is 57, set by Alex Kofoed '07 in the second round of the 2007 playoffs at Central (Iowa). Eleven of Erdmann's 28 completions Saturday went for 20 yards or more.
Elsewhere in the Record Book
Erdmann passed Mayew and Nick Martin (2012-15) for seventh in school history with 4,821 career passing yards, and Mayew and Connor Bruns (2010-13) for the eighth-most pass completions (319).
Gillach's 256 receiving yards surpassed SJU's previous record of 226, which was set by running back Rick Bell '83 against St. Cloud State on Sept. 11, 1982. The 100-yard receiving game was the first Gillach's career, which he reached early in the second quarter. The 14 receptions were the most by a Johnnie since Blake Elliott '03 caught 15 against Bethel on Nov. 8, 2003; Gagliardi's record-breaking 409th collegiate victory. Gillach's 255 yards from scrimmage (he carried the ball once for a loss of one yard) were the eighth-most in SJU history (Bell totaled 375 yards in 1982's win over SCSU).
Jackson's momentum-shifting, 99-yard fumble return for a touchdown tied the longest in school history. James Schafer returned a fumble 99 yards in a similar fashion (also along the near sideline, from the other end zone) in the Johnnies' 34-0 shutout of fifth-ranked Bethel on Oct. 27, 2001, in Collegeville. Saturday's touchdown was Jackson's school-record fourth defensive score of his career. He tied for the team lead with nine tackles (five solo) and broke up two passes on the afternoon.
SJU intercepted UST's Jacques Perra (25 of 53 for 339 yards) five times and forced two fumbles in the win. The Tommies had committed five turnovers, total, through their first five games this season. Junior safety Ryan LaCasse recorded two of the five interceptions, while both of SJU's starting cornerbacks (Chris Harris and Sam Westby) each had a pick. Even junior nose guard Kyle Borgeson got in the action, recording SJU's first interception by a defensive lineman since 2014 (Blake Bellefeuille '15 vs. St. Scholastica).
St. Thomas posted 610 yards of offense, 256 of which came from senior running back Josh Parks (22 carries). Eerily enough, Parks and Gillach (256 receiving yards) were high-school teammates at Chisago Lakes. Parks transferred to SJU from Division I Minnesota in the fall of 2015 but left before classes started. He sprinted to a 92-yard touchdown on the Tommies' second offensive play and cut the Johnnies' lead to 19-14 with a 60-yard scamper on the first drive of the second half. Parks scored his third touchdown of the day, from one yard out on fourth-and-goal, late in the third quarter.
SJU converted nine of its 17 third-down attempts and held UST to just a 3-for-16 showing (4-for-9 on fourth down). The Tommies scored points on one of their four trips to the red zone. SJU was 0-for-11 on third down in last year's 20-17 loss to UST at Target Field.
The Johnnies host St. Olaf (5-1, 3-1 MIAC) for a 1 p.m. kickoff next Saturday, Oct. 20, in Collegeville.