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Seeing red in the red zone

More news about: St. John-s
Dusty Krueger, with red in the background
Dusty Krueger and the Johnnies don't settle for anything less than six once they hit the red zone.
St. John's athletics photo by Alexus Jungles

By Josh Smith
D3sports.com

When Dusty Krueger and his St. John’s teammates enter the red zone, a hardened attitude rises up inside them that makes it difficult for defenses to deny them points.

This season, the Johnnies have converted on 41 of 48 red zone opportunities, scoring 39 touchdowns in the process. For the Johnnies, it simply comes down to making the most of their opportunities.

Krueger and St. John’s are looking to take advantage of another opportunity when they square off with Concordia-Moorhead on Saturday with the winner likely gaining an at-large bid into the NCAA Division III playoffs.

For much of this season, St. John’s has seized its moments to succeed – especially in the red zone with the running game.

“I think our offensive line, once we get in the red zone, they make a point of it that we’re going to get the ball in. And I think I have the same attitude,” said Krueger, who has a team-high 676 yards for SJU. “We’ve got 20 yards, we better get in the end zone. It’s going to happen or we’re going to be disappointed.

“If you want to win games, when you’re in the red zone, you need to get in that end zone.”

Krueger has played a key role in helping the Johnnies punch the ball in the end zone, scoring 10 touchdowns on the season.

“He’s an explosive back. He’s the kind of guy that can make somebody miss, and if he gets going and breaks through, he’s got great speed. He’s going to outrun a lot of guys,” St. John’s coach Gary Fasching said. “And he’s a tough kid too. He’ll get the tough yards when you need them down at the goal line.

“He’s been very good for us all year.”

While Krueger has been productive, he is still relatively fresh, given the Johnnies are bracing for their 10th game of the year.

Due in part to lopsided victories, where starters have exited the game early, and a talented stable of players in the backfield, the Johnnies haven’t been forced to rely on Krueger to handle a typical featured back’s workload.

This past week, Krueger carried the ball 15 times, picking up 77 yards and scoring three first-half touchdowns during St. John’s 72-6 win at Hamline.

“That’s part of the reason we’ve done it that way, is to keep our guys fresh,” Fasching said. “We’ve got enough guys that we don’t fall off much when we put an Adam Essler in there or a Kai Barber.”

The offensive line has excelled as well. While a number of weapons returned at the skill positions this season, the O-line had some question marks. But freshmen Dan Greencheck and Nick Neumann have taken cues from upperclassmen like Andy Jarosz to help solidify the group.

Krueger says St. John’s linemen are the nicest guys off the field, but morph into completely different people on the gridiron.

“They just get this mean attitude to them,” Krueger said.

The offense’s success has allowed St. John’s to replace seven graduated starters on the defensive side of the ball. The defense has found its groove, holding opponents to 20 points or less per game.

“We’ve had guys step in and do a great job there,” Fasching said of the defense.

The Johnnies find themselves at 8-1 overall, with their lone setback coming by three points to rival St. Thomas. But despite that success, the team has a challenging matchup awaiting them in this weekend’s regular season finale as they host Concordia-Moorhead.

“When you get to this point of the season, every week is a must-win game,” Fasching said.

 “Once we lost to St. Thomas, Coach sat us down and he’s was like, ‘If you guys want to make a run here, you have to play like every single game is a playoff game,’” Krueger recalled. “I think every game has been a big game since losing to St. Thomas.”

Saturday’s winner will finish second in the MIAC and be in excellent position to receive a Pool C bid into the postseason field.

 “It will all come down to this Saturday. This is the best team Concordia has had in years. I really like their team, and I said that before the year,” Fasching said. “They’re very, very good and we’re going to have to play our best games of the year to have a chance to beat them on Saturday.”

St. John’s will be tasked with slowing down Chad Johnson and the Cobbers’ rushing attack. Perhaps the best way to do that is to counter with a strong rushing attack of their own, which would be fine with Krueger after gaining 173 yards and a touchdown against Concordia last season.

Regardless of game plan, Krueger is confident his team will not be too tense when it’s time to take the field.

“It’s just a real, real relaxed group of guys. We push each other, but we’re not afraid to have some fun and make some jokes,” Krueger said.

“We do have a veteran group. A lot of these guys have played a lot of football for us,” Fasching added. “I think that’s an advantage going into a game like this when you’ve had guys who have played in big games.”

Playoff qualifiers

UW-Oshkosh, St. Thomas and Linfield earned their conferences’ automatic bid into the postseason field, joining Chapman and Wartburg, who clinched a week ago.

Also securing a playoff berth was Eureka, who won the UMAC conference championship for the first time in program history.

LeAnthony Reasnover carried the ball 25 times for 252 yards and seven touchdowns as the Red Devils defeated Martin Luther, 63-26, to claim its first ever playoff berth.

Number of the week

1 – as in the number of total yards allowed by the St. Thomas defense. Gustavus Adolphus finished the game with 3 passing yards and minus-2 yards rushing, as the Tommies recorded 16 tackles for a loss, including seven quarterback sacks. Blake Weber added an interception as UST won 58-7 and clinched a share of the MIAC championship.

The rest of the West

Wyatt Smith threw two touchdown passes, Willy Warne kicked three field goals and the Linfield defense held Puget Sound to 99 total yards of offense. That combination powered Linfield to a 23-0 victory and the Northwest Conference championship. … Matt Sacia tossed four touchdown passes, Dylan Binion added three rushing and one receiving TD and Chris McNutt scored on a blocked punt to lead IIAC champ Wartburg over Buena Vista, 56-14. … Joe Mudie and Ricky Bautista rushed for two touchdowns each, and Jacob Isabel added four receptions for 129 yards and a score as Chapman got past Claremont-Mudd-Scripps 48-38 and secure the SCIAC championship outright. … Brett Kasper completed 13 of 19 passes for 275 yards and three touchdowns, guiding UW-Oshkosh to a 42-7 win over UW-Eau Claire and securing a share of the WIAC title. … Blake Kragnes rushed for 107 yards and three touchdowns to go with 97 passing yards and a score as Concordia-Moorhead cruised to a 54-12 win over St. Olaf. … Blaine Hawkins threw for 230 yards and two touchdowns and added a team-high 87 rushing yards and a score as Central took down Luther, 23-21. … Ian Kolste passed for 305 yards and four touchdowns, with Kevin Thomas catching six balls for 141 yards and two scores. The success in the passing game allowed Whitworth to topple Lewis and Clark, 48-7. … Latif Adams scored his second touchdown of the game in overtime to lift Westminster (Mo.) to a 27-21 win over Iowa Wesleyan. … UW-Whitewater survived a comeback bid by UW-Platteville that included a safety in the final three minutes. Drew Patterson rushed for 110 yards and a touchdown as the Warhawks won, 17-16. … Pacific Lutheran generated four takeaways and limited George Fox to a field goal en route to winning, 13-3. TJ Morris scored the lone touchdown of the game, a 3-yard run in the first quarter. … Gregoire Franchomme recorded 144 receiving yards and caught four of George Harris’ five touchdown passes as Greenville defeated Minnesota-Morris, 49-21. … Edward Sias completed 11 of 16 passes for 181 yards and two touchdowns to lead Pomona-Pitzer to a 28-21 over La Verne. … Drew David threw two touchdown passes and Luke Winnen returned an interception for a touchdown during UW-La Crosse’s 21-7 win over UW-Stout. … Dubuque’s Kody Riemer caught seven passes, racking up 140 yards and three touchdowns, leading the Spartans to a 35-21 win over Coe. … Laquarius Davis returned a fumble 71 yards to help MacMurray clinch a 34-26 win at St. Scholastica. Chazz Middlebrook added 111 rushing yards and a touchdown in the victory. … Shaka Taylor’s third touchdown of the game, a 78-yard run, gave Nebraska Wesleyan a 21-point third-quarter lead and the Prairie Wolves went on to defeat Simpson, 45-38. … Bethel built a 20-point lead behind Trey Anderson’s returned an extra point and a pair of Jake Marsh touchdown passes en route to defeating Augsburg, 42-22. Marsh finished the day with 225 passing yards and three touchdown throws. … Brandon Boyd rushed for 184 yards and two touchdowns while JT Greenough threw three touchdown passes to propel Pacific past Willamette, 41-13. … Redlands outgained Whittier, 666-285, as Levi Plante and Nathan Martinez combined for 274 passing yards and five touchdowns. The Bulldogs won 76-7. … Nate VanBeusekom scored two touchdowns, helping Northwestern (Minn.) defeat Crown, 24-7. … Michael Diggins racked up 224 rushing yards and three touchdowns, powering UW-River Falls to a 21-14 win at UW-Stevens Point.

Rank ‘em

Eight teams from the West Region were ranked in the latest Top 25 poll.

UW-Oshkosh, St. Thomas, St. John’s and Linfield remained ranked in the top-10, checking in at Nos. 3, 4, 6 and 8, respectively.

Wartburg and Concordia-Moorhead both held its positions at Nos. 18 and 19, respectively. UW-Whitewater (No. 23) and UW-La Crosse (No. 24) both entered the poll, while UW-Platteville and George Fox each fell out of the Top 25.

UW-Platteville (19), Whitworth (6) and Chapman (2) received votes in the Week 10 poll.

Be heard

Do you have a story idea for the Around the West column? Contact me about approaching milestones, broken records, breakout players or any other storylines from the Region. Or just drop me a note to let me know what you think of the column. All ideas and feedback are welcome. Email me at josh.smith@d3sports.com or follow me on Twitter @By_Josh_Smith.

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Josh Smith has covered Division III sports for more than five years. He writes for multiple publications, including D3football.com beginning in 2012. He has won multiple awards for reporting and photography and lives in southern Wisconsin near UW-Whitewater, where he graduated with a degree in print journalism.

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