MENOMONIE — As the clock wound down to zero, UW-Stout quarterback Sean Borgerding backed up in the pocket and put up a prayer.
A touchdown would have tied the game and forced overtime against the No. 3-ranked St. John’s Johnnies. Borgerding’s throw spiraled high into the end zone, but the upset was not to be. St. John’s’ Chris Harris picked off the pass, lifting his Johnnies to a 14-7 victory on Saturday afternoon at Williams Stadium.
Coming into the game, few people would have given the Blue Devils a chance against the Johnnies. St. John’s went 12-1 last season, falling in the NCAA Division III quarterfinals to the eventual national champions, Mary Hardin-Baylor. But the Blue Devils defense looked spectacular in the season opener and did enough to give Stout’s offense a chance late.
“These guys played with heart, passion, grit, they were just balling out,” Stout coach Clayt Birmingham said. “I’m very proud of our defense and how they handled every situation.”
The Blue Devils’ offense came out of the gate looking strong.
On Stout’s second possession of the game, running back Josh Nitek took a screen pass from Borgerding on the right side of the field and broke a pair of tackles to pick up 17 yards and set the Blue Devils up at the St. John’s 47. Seven plays later, Borgerding hit Tyler Seymour on a slant to put the Blue Devils up 7-0 in the first quarter.
The Blue Devils defense looked spectacular early, holding St. John’s scoreless in the first half. Sophomore Scott Gustafson led the way, coming up with a pair of big sacks to double his sack total from last year in the first half alone.
After the break, the Blue Devils offense went quiet.
St. John’s quarterback Jackson Erdmann found Ravi Alston for 28 yards late in the third quarter, setting the Johnnies up at the seven-yard line. Two plays later, fullback Kenneth Udoibok snuck out of the backfield on a play action and was left wide open for a 3-yard touchdown reception.
After a three-and-out by the Stout offense, Erdmann needed just one play to put his Johnnies ahead, connecting with Henry Trost for a 46-yard score.
Despite their third quarter woes, the Stout defense came up big repeatedly in the fourth quarter, giving the offense numerous chances to break through for the tying score.
“I thought their defense was really good,” St. John’s coach Gary Fasching said. “They’re going to win a lot of games this year.”
With 10:59 in the fourth, Gustafson blocked a 38-yard field goal attempt. On St. John’s’ next drive, senior Jed Schlegel picked off a pass from Erdmann, setting the Blue Devils up just outside the red zone. But a pair of sacks resulted in a turnover on downs for the Blue Devils.
Stout’s final chance was made possible by a questionable pass interference call against St. Johns that allowed the Blue Devils to survive a 4th-and-10 incompletion.
With 14 second left in the game, Erdmann hit Levy Hamer for 17 yards to set Stout up for its last second Hail Mary from the 25. But the miracle was not to be.
“There were a lot of things we were really close on,” Borgerding said. “It shows we are right there, they’re a really good team. If we keep working, we’re not that far away.”
Stout’s rush defense looked particularly strong on Saturday. After surrendering 162.3 yards per game last season, the Blue Devils held St. John’s to just 63 yards on the ground.
“We have eight starters coming back from last year,” Schlegel said. “That’s the big difference, everyone was ready to go.”
A victory over St John’s would have been Stout’s second victory against a top four ranked team in the past three seasons, after the Blue Devils took down St. Thomas two years ago.
Birmingham said he wasn’t sure he believes in moral victories, but he said he was pleased with the way his team played.
Stout will look to even its season record on Saturday when the Blue Devils host Gustavus Adolphus College at 1 p.m.
St. John’s 14, UW-Stout 7
St. Johns 0 0 14 0 — 14
UW-Stout 7 0 0 0 — XX
Stout: Tyler Seymour 4 pass from Sean Borgerding (Alec Benzinger kick), 4:25.
SJU: Kenneth Udoibok 3 pass from Jackson Erdmann (Austin Solors kick), 4:30.
SJU: Henry Trost 46 pass from Erdmann (Solors kick), 2:28.
Team & Individual Statistics
RUSHING (att-yds): St. John’s (32-66): Trost 9-37; Kai Barber 12-31; Udoibok 4-15. UW-Stout (36-41): Josh Nitek 8-25; Nick Arguedas 9-17; Shanan Ameen 3-15.
PASSING (comp-att-int-yds): St. John’s (20-35-2-235): Erdmann 20-35-2-235. UW-Stout (13-26-3-136): Borgerding 13-26-3-136.
RECEIVING (rec-yds): St. John’s: Andrew VanErp 7-78; Trost 3-56; Ravi Alston 2-38; T.J. Hodge 3-28; Barber 1-13; Matt Mohr 1-11. UW-Stout: Levy Hamer 3-48; Tyler Seymour 2-21; Parker Fossum 1-20; Kevion McDonald 2-15; Nitek 3-14; Kierre Rhodes 1-9; Shanan Ameen 1-9.