From the moment Gary Fasching was named head coach at St. John’s, he knew the first step he had to take to put the shine back on the Johnnies’ football program. “I said, ‘The thing we’re missing is that Johnnie mystique,’’’ said Fasching, who took over for the legendary John Gagliardi in December. “We’ve lost it a little bit. From that day forward, that’s all we’ve talked about, that we’re never going to give up.’’
Still, Fasching knew that message would not resonate without results—and Saturday, the Johnnies turned words into action with a 20-18 upset of No. 2 St. Thomas at O’Shaughnessy Stadium. St. John’s forced five turnovers in front of a stadium-record crowd announced at 10,800 and withstood a final Tommies charge, as Paul Graupner’s 32-yard field-goal attempt edged wide left on the game’s last play.
The loss ended three significant victory streaks for the Tommies (2-1, 0-1 MIAC), who had won 36 consecutive regular-season games, 27 in a row in the MIAC and 18 in a row on their home field. Fasching and his players were intent on halting their own three-game losing streak to St. Thomas. In doing so, the Johnnies (3-0, 1-0) ignited a wild celebration that swamped the field with delirious red-clad fans.
“This is a great win for St. John’s,’’ said Johnnies safety Darryl Williams, one of 32 seniors who beat their archrival for the first time. “All we talked about this whole week was belief and confidence. We have belief in what we do. We worked really hard for this.’’
St. Thomas amassed 380 total yards to the Johnnies’ 278 and held a 23-13 edge in first downs. But three fumbles, two interceptions and a flawed defense led to its first regular-season loss since 2009.
Quarterback Matt O’Connell scored on an 11-yard run late in the first quarter, and holder Dan Ferrazzo ran in for a two-point conversion to give St. Thomas an 8-0 lead. But the Johnnies scored twice in the final three minutes, 33 seconds of the first half, with quarterback Connor Bruns and running back Sam Sura finishing touchdown drives that were begun by a pair of Tommies fumbles.
Graupner’s 53-yard field goal as time expired in the first half cut the Johnnies’ lead to 14-11. St. John’s kicker Alexi Johnson hit a 27-yarder to make it 17-11 before O’Connell hit Dom Truoccolo with a 22-yard touchdown pass, vaulting the Tommies to an 18-17 lead. But O’Connell’s first interception of the game with 1:05 left in the third quarter gave the Johnnies the ball on the St. Thomas 21.
Johnson’s 34-yard field goal with 14:53 remaining put the Johnnies back on top. Another O’Connell interception killed a Tommies drive that had reached the St. John’s 27-yard line, but the junior rallied his team for a final effort with 2:38 left. He completed seven of 11 passes to march the Tommies from their 12-yard line to the Johnnies’ 11, then saw Graupner’s kick go wide.
“It’s really amazing that we even had a shot at the end with how poorly we played,’’ Tommies coach Glenn Caruso said. “This is going to sting for a while. There will be something positive that comes out of this, but I doubt I’ll see it today.’’