As Tommies and Johnnies Prepare For Clash, Rest of MIAC Plays On

September 20, 2017 07:47 PM

When St. John's and St. Thomas kick off at 1:10 p.m. Saturday at Target Field, it will be in front of a crowd now expected to be well in excess of 32,000.

But there are also three other games on the MIAC schedule that day, including a matchup between Augsburg and Carleton in Northfield.


That game will draw a fraction of the crowd and attention that will accompany the annual Tommies/Johnnies clash. But Carleton coach Bob Pagel said he is not dwelling on what is taking place in downtown Minneapolis.

"Honestly, I haven't even thought about it," said Pagel, whose team fell 63-0 at home against St. Thomas last week. "I'm focused on the game we're playing.

"Those are two truly, truly great programs. And if I were in their shoes and had a chance to do something like that, I'd absolutely go for it. But I can't say that I see Carleton football benefiting from it. So we're focused on the game we have in front of us this week."

Concordia-Moorhead coach Terry Horan - whose team is idle this weekend - said he does think the attention and interest this year's Tommies/Johnnies game is drawing is good for the MIAC.

"I think it's great for our league and it's great for Division III football," said Horan, whose team (3-0) is ranked No. 21 in this week's Top 25 and seems poised to challenge both the Johnnies (3-0, No. 6) and Tommies (2-1, No. 10) for this season's MIAC title.

"Those two programs both have storied histories, and there aren't many bigger rivalries out there anywhere. So I think it's great for our league to have a game that draws that kind of attention."

Games to watch: Week 4

St. John's (1-0 MIAC, 3-0 overall) at St. Thomas (1-0 MIAC, 2-1 overall), 1:10 p.m. Saturday, at Target Field

This is the big one on the local small college football schedule this season. Twins officials said over 32,000 tickets had already been sold and they are expecting a crowd of perhaps 35,000. The infield has not been sodded, meaning the two teams will play part of the game on dirt.

The Tommies, ranked No. 10 in the most recent Top 25, rebounded from an upset loss at Wisconsin-Stout two weeks ago to beat Carleton 63-0 in Northfield last week. Quarterback Jacques Perra threw for 327 yards and four touchdowns. The Johnnies, meanwhile, also won big in Northfield - topping St. Olaf 56-7. St. John's has outscored its opposition 203-21 through its first three games. Senior wide receiver Evan Clark, a preseason All-American, sat out the St. Olaf game with an injury. But he is expected to play against the Tommies. 

Augustana (2-1 NSIC, 2-1 overall) at St. Cloud State (2-1 NSIC, 2-1 overall), 6 p.m. Saturday

Augustana is coming off a 30-27 overtime win over Bemidji State last week. Redshirt freshman running back Ryan Bradberry rushed for 76 yards and the game-winning touchdown in overtime. Senior defensive back Jordan Determan had his second interception in as many weeks.

The Huskies rolled past Concordia-St. Paul 56-21 on the road. Sophomore quarterback Dewayne Lawhorn threw for 254 yards and four touchdowns while rushing for 73 yards and another.

Of course, the game will be unchartered territory even for the Johnnies and Tommies, who have grown accustomed to big crowds and bright spotlights accompanying their annual meetings. The last eight regular season games between the two teams have all drawn crowds of 10,000 or more - including six over 12,000.

The 2015 matchup was even preceded by a live broadcast of ESPN's "Sports Center On the Road" program.

But this game - the first to be played in the home of baseball's Minnesota Twins - will be a whole new experience, drawing fans who may be experiencing the rivalry for the first time.

"Our message to our kids has been the field is still 100 yards long," St. John's coach Gary Fasching said. "It's going to be just as wide as any other field we play on.

"Obviously, you can't get 30,000 people together in practice to simulate that kind of a crowd. But our guys know it doesn't matter how many people are there. We still have to go out there and execute."

The Twins, who were looking to test college football at their ballpark, first broached the subject of playing at Target Field with St. Thomas, the host school this year. And with the game probably having reached maximum capacity at O'Shaughnessy Stadium, where the 2014 matchup drew 12,483 fans to a field and campus tucked snugly into its St. Paul neighborhood, there seemed little reason to say no.

Now a crowd that will almost double the current unofficial Division III attendance record (17,535) awaits.

"There are ways you can prepare for this kind of atmosphere," Tommies coach Glenn Caruso said. "There's no way you can replicate it beforehand. But there are things you can do to get ready.

"It's really not dissimilar to what we talk about to our kids every year when it comes to the Johnnies/Tommies rivalry. You want to take it all in and not push it away. But whether we're playing at our campus, or at Target Field, there are a lot of strong emotions in a game like this. And you have to be able to handle them."


Frank Rajkowski

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