Johnnies, Tommies QBs Have Locked Horns Before

September 18, 2017 04:23 PM

The last time quarterbacks Jackson Erdmann and Jacques Perra faced off as starters for their respective teams, the stage was pretty big.

It came in the 2013 Class 6A state semifinals when Perra, a senior, led a high-powered Roseville passing attack against Erdmann, a junior, starting for a Rosemount team coached by his father Jeff.

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A crowd of 11,487 was on hand at the Metrodome to watch Erdmann and the Irish come out on top 35-28 - ending Perra's successful high school career one step short of the Prep Bowl.

"I guess I do feel like I owe him one," Perra said with a smile.

Now, almost four years later, he finally gets his chance. And this time, the stage has grown larger.

RELATED: Twins Say Just Over 30K Tickets Have Been Sold for Johnnies/Tommies Game

Perra is expected to be the starter under center for St. Thomas when the Tommies take on Erdmann and St. John's in the latest installment of the now 116-year-old Tommies/Johnnies rivalry at 1:10 p.m. Saturday at Target Field.

It marks the first football game played at the home of the Minnesota Twins. And Twins officials say more than 30,000 tickets have already been sold.

That would shatter the unofficial Division III attendance record of 17,535, set during a game between Wisconsin-Oshkosh and Wisconsin-Whitewater last season. That broke the record of 17,327 set for the 2015 St. John's/St. Thomas matchup in Collegeville.

"It's really hard to even get a picture in my head of what that's going to be like," said Erdmann, whose team (3-0) is ranked No. 6 in the nation in the most recent D3football.com Division III top 25, while the Tommies (2-1) enter ranked No. 10.

"I don't think any of us are going to know what that will be like until we get out there and see it with our own eyes."

Interest in the rivalry between the MIAC rivals has always been high. But it's only grown in recent years as head coach Glenn Caruso and St. Thomas emerged as a national power. The Johnnies won 16 of 17 games in the series (including 12 straight) between 1993 and 2009.

But the Tommies snapped that streak in 2010, Caruso's third season at the helm. And since that time, they have won six of the last eight meetings (including a playoff victory in 2015).

Both schools have made the Division III playoff field the past three seasons. St. Thomas reached the Division III national title game before falling to Mount Union (Ohio) in both 2012 and 2015. St. John's has four national championships to its credit (two in Division III), the last coming in 2003. 

That success and tradition (and some awfully motivated alumni bases) helps explain why every regular season matchup between the two schools since 2009 has drawn crowds of 10,000 or more.

It's also the reason the Minnesota Twins approached St. Thomas about moving this year's game - a home contest for the Tommies - to Target Field.

"We dominated the series for awhile, even though there were years when one team may have had better talent and the other team still managed to win," said Johnnies coach Gary Fasching, a longtime assistant at the school now in his fifth season at the helm, having taken over for John Gagliardi following the 2012 season.

"Since Glenn has gotten there, they've gotten to a much higher level - both in our conference and nationally. You have to give credit where credit is due. He's done a really great job building that program up. And the last few years, both teams have been ranked nationally and have made the playoffs.

"So I think that's kept interest building."

The Target Field matchup, though, marks another milestone in the series.

"I'd like to say I know exactly how it's going to feel, but I can't," Caruso said. "It's going to be a new experience for everybody on that field. But I think (the ticket sales) are an incredible testament to the rivalry, and the passion you see in both teams' fanbase.

"It's going to be electric, no doubt."

And Erdmann and Perra will be at the center of the action.

"There's going to be a lot of emotion in that game," Perra said. "But we're trying to keep everything extra to a minimum and just focus on playing St. Thomas football."

A long road

Both Erdmann and Perra have traveled a path filled with twists and turns since last meeting four years ago.

For Erdmann, it started with a senior season in which he led Rosemount back to state, throwing for 2,034 yards and 24 touchdowns. This despite seeing limited action after he was diagnosed with acute cerebellar ataxia, a condition that disrupts balance, coordination and muscle movement, among other symptoms.

He walked on at Penn State in 2015, but after redshirting a season with the Nittany Lions, he decided to transfer.

The decision came about the same time Perra was looking for a new home after spending two seasons at the University of Minnesota. He redshirted in 2014, but worked his way as high as No. 3 on the depth chart and saw action in one game in 2015.

But when head coach Jerry Kill retired for health reasons during that season, and offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover and quarterbacks coach Jim Zebrowski were let go after the regular season ended, he knew it was time to go.

"I announced I was transferring right about the same time (Erdmann) did," Perra said. "So we talked a little bit then. We haven't talked a whole lot since.

"But I know he's a really good quarterback. I saw that when we played in high school."

Erdmann earned the Johnnies' starting job in the preseason a year ago, and looked impressive in the early going. But he suffered a concussion in his team's 33-21 loss to the Tommies in week four.

That triggered a recurrence of some of the same ataxia symptoms be battled in high school. And he didn't return until later in the season.

Ben Alvord played well in his absence, and the two continued to rotate even after Erdmann's return. Erdmann has started all three games this season, and has thrown for 362 yards and seven touchdowns. Though Alvord, now a junior, has continued to see extensive action.

"I think it's been going well," said Erdmann, who shaved a tenth of a second of his 40-yard dash time this offseason. "I'm feeling really good.

"I've been able to stay healthy so far. And I'm hoping it stays that way."

Perra was No. 2 on the Tommies' depth chart last season, playing behind senior Alex Fenske, who earned MIAC MVP honors. But he took over the starting job this preseason.

Since then, there have been ups and downs - including a 25-22 upset loss at Wisconsin-Stout on Sept. 9 when he was sacked four times and threw a pair of interceptions.

But he and the Tommies rebounded from that loss to beat Carleton 63-0 on the road this past Saturday. Perra threw for 327 yards and four touchdowns before he and the rest of the starters called it an early afternoon.

"Jacques is just a great guy," Erdmann said. "And he's a great football player. He's shown that everywhere he's been. I can't believe it's been four years since we last played against each other. I can't wait to go up against him again." 

Perra had the better statistical outing in that 2013 matchup - throwing for 296 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for 80 yards and another score. Erdmann threw for just 71 yards and one touchdown while rushing for 74 yards and another. 

But it was he and the Irish who advanced to the Prep Bowl, where they fell to Eden Prairie.

"It's funny because the last time we played, it was in (what was then) the Vikings' home stadium," said Perra, the 2013 AP prep player of the year. "Now it's happening again at the home of the Twins. The last game was pretty exciting to be part of. Both teams made some big plays.

"I'd just like the score to turn out a little different this time."

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Frank Rajkowski

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