COLLEGEVILLE, Minn. – Dusty Krueger took the handoff, lunged toward the goal line and held his breath, waiting for the officials to raise their arms and signal the touchdown.
He waited six seconds. It felt like an eternity.
“They were waiting forever,” St. John’s quarterback Jackson Erdmann said after Krueger’s 1-yard plunge on the game’s final play gave the Johnnies a 32-31 win over Wisconsin-Platteville on Saturday at Clemens Stadium. “When they signaled it, it was just chaos.”
“I was panicking,” said St. John’s head coach Gary Fasching, whose team rallied from an 11-point fourth-quarter deficit.
“It was in,” Krueger added. “Their hands went up, and we got to celebrate.”
The Johnnies (10-1) also got to advance to the second round of the NCAA Division III football playoffs, thanks to an 80-yard drive in the game’s final 2 minutes, 20 seconds that included three fourth-down conversions and a couple of disputed plays.
“We’re gonna disagree with some of the decisions that were made at the end,” Pioneers coach Mike Emendorfer said. “This is gonna hurt.”
“This is the craziest, most emotional game I’ve ever played in,” St. John’s linebacker Carter Hanson said after a second half that included eight scores and four lead changes. “It shaved a few years off my life.”
St. John’s trailed 31-20 after a snap over punter Griffin Toomey’s head set up Sean Studer’s 1-yard touchdown run with 12:02 left in the fourth quarter.
Erdmann, a freshman who completed 18 of 33 passes for 235 yards and two touchdowns in a game that saw St. John’s switch quarterbacks five times, tossed a 19-yard scoring pass to Zack Sundly with 8:10 left.
Erdmann threw an interception on the ensuing drive, but St. John’s got one more chance when Emendorfer elected to punt on fourth-and-1 at the St. John’s 36 with 2:20 left.
“Those decisions will weigh on me for the rest of my career,” he said.
Erdmann completed four passes on that final drive, including a 32-yard toss to wide receiver Evan Clark on a disputed fourth-down play.
“I thought the receiver stepped out of bounds,” Emendorfer said.
An ensuing 11-yard pass to Will Gillach gave the Johnnies a first down at the 1, and Erdmann spiked the ball to stop the clock with 10 seconds left.
Two incomplete passes followed, giving St. John’s one last shot with three seconds left. Krueger made the most of it.
“The offensive line was very adamant they wanted to run it on that last play,” said Krueger, whose initial surge barely broke the plane of the goal line. “They made a surge, and all I had to do was follow them.”
“We’ve been in this situation for seven straight weeks, where we had to win a game to move on,” said Fasching, whose team’s only setback was a 33-21 loss to St. Thomas on Sept. 24. A potential playoff rematch could happen Dec. 2.
“I was looking up in the air a couple times, looking for some help,” Fasching said. “I think we got a little bit of help here today.”