COLLEGEVILLE, MINN. – Judging from the numbers, it might appear that Sam Sura is hogging the limelight. The St. John’s running back turned in another spectacular performance Saturday, tying a career high with four touchdowns and running for a season-high 202 yards in a 49-27 victory over Gustavus at Clemens Stadium.
But the senior from South St. Paul likes nothing more than sharing the wealth. While he continued his charge toward the top of the Johnnies’ career rushing charts, he was just as enthusiastic about his teammates’ play. Quarterback Nick Martin’s proficient passing helped open things up for Sura as the game progressed, and the St. John’s defense slowed the most powerful offense in the MIAC.
Martin completed 11 of 16 passes for 212 yards and three touchdowns as the 14th-ranked Johnnies (5-1, 3-1 MIAC) handed Gustavus (6-1, 4-1) its first loss of the season. The No. 20 Gusties were limited to their lowest offensive totals of the season, gaining 309 total yards to the Johnnies’ 489. Gustavus entered the game averaging 54.5 points and 545 yards per game.
Quarterback Mitch Hendricks, the top passer in Division III, threw for 224 yards—111 yards below his season average — and three touchdowns with one interception.
“As an offense, we’re starting to become more balanced,’’ Sura said. “That’s what all good offenses have to do.
“This means a lot. [Coach] Gary [Fasching] has been saying that every single game is a playoff game now; we can’t lose, otherwise it’s over. This was a big win for us against a very good team.’’
Sura has run for four touchdowns in each of his past two games. He now has 38 career TDs, second-most in program history, and his 3,299 career rushing yards are 634 short of Tim Schmitz’s program record of 3,933.
Martin said the Johnnies have worked toward more offensive balance in recent weeks. Saturday, their efforts were sabotaged early by turnovers and penalties. Gustavus opened the scoring with a 1-yard TD run by Leeland Lauti after recovering a fumble at the Johnnies 35. With the score tied 7-7, a botched punt gave the Gusties the ball at the St. John’s 1, setting up a scoring pass from Hendricks to Matt Boyce.
St. John’s answered with four consecutive touchdowns. Martin connected with Josh Bungum from 35 yards, and Sura added a two-yard scoring run for a 21-14 halftime lead. The defense held Gustavus to 96 yards in the first half and prevented a tying TD in the final seconds of the second quarter when Carter Hanson intercepted Hendricks in the end zone.
Martin said the Johnnies were making “stupid mistakes’’ in the first half. They sorted things out at halftime, identifying vulnerabilities in the Gusties’ pass defense, adjusting some blocking schemes and delving deeper into their playbook.
“In the second half, we didn’t give them any mercy,’’ said Martin, who threw a 29-yard TD pass to Bungum in the third and a 22-yard scoring strike to Matt Miller in the fourth. “If we build on this, we could be a really scary team to play.’’
Gustavus faces a rugged road through the remainder of the MIAC schedule. It has a bye next week, then finishes the regular season against powerhouses Bethel, Concordia and St. Thomas.
“We weren’t good enough on the downs that counted,’’ Hendricks said. “It’s disappointing, but you’ve just got to be able to rebound.’’