Game of the week

St. Thomas at St. John’s, 1 p.m. Saturday: The annual Johnnies-Tommies rivalry game never lacks for motivation or passion, and that’s certainly going to be true Saturday. The teams are both unbeaten, nationally ranked — St. John’s No. 8, St. Thomas No. 12 in D3Football.com — and the winner will take a giant step toward securing a postseason bid. As if the game needed anything else to attract interest, ESPN will be at Collegeville from 6-8 a.m. Saturday for a live SportsCenter broadcast. SJU will open gates to Clemens Stadium at 5 a.m. and then clear the stands after SportsCenter. That’s going to be a long day of party …, er, preparation, for the enthusiastic fan bases.

On the field, the key question is whether the St. Thomas defense can stop St. John’s running back Sam Sura, the reigning MIAC MVP who leads the league with an average of 144 rushing yards per game. St. Thomas statistically has the league’s top defense, yielding an average of just 178 yards per game and seven points per game. But St. Thomas has yet to play an MIAC opponent by virtue of last week’s bye in the opening round of league games. St. John’s is 2-0 vs. St. Thomas in Gary Fasching’s two seasons as coach, and last season’s victory propelled SJU to the conference championship. Sura in the past two seasons against St. Thomas has rushed for 298 yards, including 210 yards in last year’s 24-14 victory in St. Paul. The 2010 meeting between the two longtime rivals at St. John’s established an NCAA Division III single-game attendance record of 16,421. Don’t be surprised if that mark falls Saturday.

 

WEEK 4 STORYLINES

Who’d have thought it? Heading into Week 4 the marquee NSIC game is a matchup of unbeatens: Southwest State at Minnesota State Moorhead. The Dragons are 3-0 for the first time since 1987, and Southwest State is 3-0 for the first time since 1991.

• Expect an offensive shootout when Augsburg travels to Gustavus on Saturday. The Gusties are averaging 49 points a game, the Auggies 45. Gustavus QB Mitch Hendricks is averaging 348.3 yards passing per game, which is No. 9 nationally. Augsburg QB Ayrton Scott is in the top five in the MIAC in both passing (211.3 yards per game) and rushing (119 ypg).

• UMD ( 1-2) has another tough test Saturday at home against unbeaten Upper Iowa, which leads in many of the NSIC defensive stats, allowing a mere 8.3 ppg. UMD has lost to nationally No. 1-ranked Minnesota State Mankato and unbeaten Sioux Falls.

 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Demetrius Carr, QB, MSU Moorhead: Carr was the backup when the season started, getting the start Saturday because of an injury to Jake Hodge. Carr responded by completing 25 of 29 passes for 446 yards and four TDs in a 35-34 victory over Augustana.

 

Jack Swanberg, DB, Hamline: Swanberg blocked two punts, recovered an onside kick, made five tackles and intercepted a pass as Hamline nearly pulled off an upset before losing to Gustavus 42-35.

 

BY THE NUMBERS

36 Consecutive NSIC victories for Minnesota State Mankato, which plays Minnesota-Crookston Saturday.

4 Unbeaten teams in the NSIC South Division: MSU Mankato, Sioux Falls, Southwest State and Upper Iowa.

1 Unbeaten team in the NSIC North Division: MSU Moorhead.

 

Dennis Brackin