Erdmann, Johnnies cruise past Whitworth in second round of Division III playoffs

November 24, 2018 10:55 PM


The full-on mustache Jackson Erdmann is sporting these days is something new.


So too are the places the St. John's junior quarterback is leading his team.

On Saturday, the Rosemount graduate threw for 305 yards and five touchdowns as the Johnnies, ranked No. 3 in the final poll of the regular season, defeated Whitworth (Washington), ranked No. 10, 45-24 in the second round of the NCAA Division III playoffs at Clemens Stadium,

St. John's (12-0) advances to meet No. 2 Mary Hardin-Baylor in the national quarterfinals at noon next Saturday. The NCAA will not officially announce a host site until Sunday. But the game will be played in Belton, Texas.

And it will mark the first time the Johnnies have advanced that deeply into the postseason since 2006 (a season that also featured a second-round win over Whitworth).

St. John's - which last won a national title in 2003 - lost in the second round in 2014, '15 and '16, and fell in the first round a year ago. This year, though, the Johnnies knocked off archrival St. Thomas for the first time since 2014, claiming their first MIAC title since that season.

"This is huge for us as a program," said Erdmann, who transferred to St. John's after redshirting for a season at Penn State in 2015.

"Ever since I first got here, I've been hearing about how we can't have another 10-2 season. We've wanted to surpass that."

Once again Saturday, an opposing defense had a hard time finding ways to stop Erdmann. Just as he says family members have had a hard time getting used to the expanded facial hair.

He said he started growing his mustache in earnest at the beginning of this month to go along with a longer hairstyle that made its debut this season. 

And since that time, he has thrown for 160 yards and three touchdowns in a 51-0 win over Hamline on Nov. 3, 255 yards and a school-record seven touchdowns in a 63-23 win over Thomas More to close the regular season on Nov. 10 and 289 yards and six touchdowns in an 84-6 first-round victory over Martin Luther last week.

Then there was his big game against the Pirates Saturday, capping a week in which he was named a semifinalist for the Gagliardi Trophy - an award named for former St. John's coach John Gagliardi and handed out annually to the most outstanding player at the Division III level - on and off the field.

"I've been told it doesn't look good on me," he said of the mustache. "But I think it looks pretty good.

"I certainly wouldn't say it's been the secret though. We're just clicking so well as an offense. Our offensive line is killing it. We're running the ball well. Our receivers are making great catches. We're able to do so many things."

Erdmann was 14 of 22 passing for 240 yards and four touchdowns in the first half as the Johnnies scored on four of their five offensive possessions and piled up 252 yards of offense.

Yet Whitworth dominated the time of possession, holding a 21:01 to 8:59 edge. Junior quarterback Leif Ericksen was 22 of 34 passing for 175 yards and two touchdowns.

"They were just nickel-and-diming us to death out there in the first half," St. John's coach Gary Fasching said. "I thought they had a really good game plan. I didn't feel like they were going to be able to run the ball effectively against us. But I was concerned about their short passing game.

"And that's what they were doing well before halftime."

The Pirates cut the gap to as little as 21-17 on a 4-yard touchdown catch by senior Mason Elms with 1:58 to play in the second quarter, then forced the Johnnies to punt on a drive that ran just 20 seconds off the clock. 

But Whitworth was forced to punt the ball away itself. And what might have been the game's key play followed.

St. John's senior Max Jackson returned a punt 47 yards to set his team up at the Pirates' 39 with 26 seconds left on the clock. Two plays later, Erdmann and senior Will Gillach connected on a 4-yard touchdown pass that put the Johnnies up 28-17 at halftime.

"The guys did a great job blocking," said Jackson, who also finished with 11 tackles at his safety position. "I only had one guy to make miss and I was able to do that."

The Johnnies opened the second half with a 22-yard field goal by senior Zach Barwick and never looked back. The Pirates did not score again until under 30 seconds remained to play.

The St. John's defensive line was able to apply more pressure on Ericksen in the second half, helping slow down the Whitworth offensive attack.

"We got more pressure and that allowed us to throw a couple more people back in coverage," said senior defensive end Ted Kalina, who finished with eight tackles and two sacks. "Our linebackers and defensive backs buttoned some things down too. We just did a better job defensively as a whole."

And Erdmann and the offense took care of the rest, earning the Johnnies a trip to Texas next week.

Mary Hardin-Baylor defeated Berry 75-9 in the second round Saturday.

"This is what we've been working for," Fasching said. "Now we've taken that next step. And we know we're in for a big challenge next week. 

"But I think Mary Hardin-Baylor will be in for a challenge as well."

And the Johnnies will not be the only MIAC team advancing to play another week.

Quarterback Jaran Roste, who redshirted at Minnesota last season, threw for 219 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for 64 yards and another as Bethel, ranked No. 11 in the final poll of the regular season, went on the road to knock off North Central, ranked No. 9, 27-24 in a second-round matchup at Naperville, Illinois.

The Royals (11-1) advance to face perennial power Wisconsin-Whitewater, ranked No. 5, in the quarterfinals at noon next Saturday in Whitewater, Wisconsin.

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Frank Rajkowski

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