Johnnies win back-and-forth season opener in dramatic fashion

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The Saint John’s University Johnnies defeated the Aurora University Spartans 39-33 on Saturday afternoon at Clemens Stadium on the campus of Saint John’s.


The Johnnies struck first when sophomore quarterback Aaron Syverson hit junior tight end Alex Larson to make it 7-0 Saint John’s with 2:39 left in the first.

The Johnnies had great field position following a bad Spartan punt, but Aurora would go onto intercept Saint John’s. On their ensuing possession, senior quarterback Gavin Zimbelman hit junior wide receiver Trey Madsen for a long reception. A couple of plays later, Madsen would finish the drive with a touchdown catch to make it 7-7 with 13:24 left in the second quarter.

But, the Johnnies would respond on their next possession. Syverson led the johnnies down the field with his arm. From there, senior running back Henry Trost took care of the rest with a long run, followed by a short touchdown run to put Saint John’s up 14-7 with 9:56 left in the first half.

The Spartans had an answer though. Zimbelman and Madsen would bring Aurora down the field to the Johnnies 7-yard line. Those two connected again on a great throw and catch for another Aurora touchdown to make it 14-14 with 6:06 left in the second quarter.

Following Spartan’s senior defensive back Sean Reyna second interception, Aurora put together another great drive. Zimbelman hit senior wideout Cameron Moore for a deep catch, then hit senior tight end Colton Jewell on a fourth down, and finally hit junior wide receiver Brock Harner for a touchdown catch to put Aurora up 20-14 with 36 seconds left in the first half.

In the second half, the Johnnies drove down the field and Syverson hit Larson, for a second touchdown catch, making it 21-20 Saint John’s with 12:18 left in the third quarter.

But, Madsen continued his big day, single-handedly bringing the Spartans back down the field. Then, Zimbelman hit Moore for a beautiful touchdown catch to make it 27-21 Spartans with 8:40 left in the third.

Later in the third, Syverson would find Larson for a huge gain. That would lead to Trost finding the end zone, for his second rushing touchdown of the game, making it 28-27 Johnnies with 1:04 left in the third quarter.

The ensuing Spartan possession was aided by a Johnnie defensive pass interference. Three plays later, Zimbelman found Harner for his second touchdown catch. The Spartans then were unsuccessful on their two-point attempt, making it 33-28 Aurora with 12:53 remaining in the game.

The Johnnies would answer with a field goal to make it 33-31 with 7:41 left in the game.

Saint John’s would then force a three and out, get a great punt return, and have the ball back with 5:59 left in the fourth quarter. On the drive, senior running back Devin Vouk would run in for a go-ahead touchdown for the Johnnies. Then, Syverson would run in the two-point conversion to make it 39-33 with 3:12 remaining.

The Johnnies had the Spartans down to a fourth and one, but Zimbelman was able to scramble and heave a pass downfield that was hauled in by junior wideout Michael Boland to give Aurora new life. Zimbelman would scramble to the Johnnies 7-yard line with under a minute remaining in the game.

It would all come down to a fourth-and-goal from the one-yard line with just 17 seconds left in the game. Zimbelman would scramble out to his right, but senior defensive lineman Collin Franz forced a fumble recovered by senior defensive lineman Seth Morem to seal a Johnnies victory.