October 13, 2018 08:08 PM
Will Gillach stood in the end zone at Clemens Stadium, his finger extended skyward after a second-half touchdown.
It was the St. John's senior wide receiver's way of paying tribute to legendary former St. John's football coach John Gagliardi, who died last Sunday at age 91.
And there's no doubt Gagliardi would have appreciated what he saw from Gillach on the field Saturday afternoon.
The Chisago Lakes High School graduate finished with 14 catches for a single-game school record 256 yards and two touchdowns as the Johnnies, ranked No. 8 in the most recent D3football.com Division III poll, topped archrival St. Thomas, ranked No. 3, 40-20 before a crowd of 16,922 in Collegeville.
"I was overwhelmed with emotions," Gillach said afterward. "Not so much for me. But I knew the moment was about so much more than just me or just our team. This was for John. It was for the Johnnies faithful who have hung with this program for so many years now."
The win was the Johnnies' first over the Tommies since 2014. And it came on a day when the school paid tribute to Gagliardi, who coached there from 1953-2012 and holds college football's all-time victories record with 489.
A moment of silence was observed before kickoff.
The victory also snapped a St. Thomas streak of 31-straight victories over MIAC opponents (counting a postseason victory over the Johnnies in 2015).
"I caught myself doing some looking up to heaven a few times today," said St. John's coach Gary Fasching, a former player and assistant for Gagliardi who succeeded him following his retirement. "I was maybe hoping for a little intervention."
"And I think John was smiling down on us."
Johnnies junior quarterback Jackson Erdmann threw for a single-game school record 470 yards and three touchdowns. He threw the ball 53 times in all, completing 28 passes.
The St. John's coaching staff had him on a stopwatch in practice all week, stressing the importance of getting rid of the ball early to avoid the Tommies' pressure.
"It was 2.8 seconds," he said. "Anything more than that was too slow. I know they like to bring the house, having played against them the past couple of years. So I knew I had to get passes away really quick."
The two teams combined for 1,149 yards of total offense. St. Thomas outgained the Johnnies 610 yards to 539. But the Tommies turned the ball over seven times -- five interceptions and two fumbles.
None was more costly than a fumble by Tommies senior Josh Parks at the St. John's 1-yard line that was returned 99 yards for a touchdown by Johnnies' senior safety Max Jackson with 10:49 to play.
"The yards are fairly irrelevant when you look at the turnovers," said St. Thomas coach Glenn Caruso, whose team (3-1 MIAC, 5-1 overall) had given up only 21 points all season prior to Saturday.
"Everybody knows in a game between two teams like this, turnovers are going to go a long way toward determining the outcome. And they did today."
The touchdown extended the St. John's lead to 20 points.
"I really didn't do anything," Jackson said. "Our two outside linebackers made plays and punched the ball loose. It just bounced at my feet and I picked it up and went."
Parks finished with 22 carries for 256 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Tommies.
"We need to focus on getting into a better rhythm offensively," said Parks, who graduated from Chisago Lakes, one year ahead of Gillach. "We just couldn't find one today. We had a couple of drives. But we were really inconsistent. And we have to take better care of the football, starting with myself."
The Johnnies (5-0, 6-0) are now in the driver's seat in the race for this season's MIAC title. And there were plenty of smiles Saturday after what was an emotional week in Collegeville.
"I never actually had the pleasure of meeting him," Gillach said of Gagliardi, who had curtailed his public appearances over the past couple of years.
"But you look around this place and you can see what he built here. And the people he helped develop are the same people who are influencing us now. So this was a big win for everybody," he said.
Updated: October 13, 2018 08:08 PM
Created: October 13, 2018 04:04 PM
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