Johnnies clinch return to Stagg Bowl
COLLEGEVILLE, Minn. — Josh Nelson caught three touchdown passes and ran for a fourth, leading St. John's to a 38-10 win over RPI in the Division III semifinals Saturday.
The Johnnies gave coach John Gagliardi his 413th career win and face Mount Union in the championship Dec. 20 in Salem, Va. Mount Union, the three-time defending Division III champion, routed Bridgewater 66-0 in its semifinal game.
Nelson, who came into the game with 291 receiving yards, third-best on the Johnnies, caught 8 passes for a career-best 192 yards.
His first score was an 80-yarder where he caught the ball on the 50 and out-ran the Engineers' secondary. His second was a 6-yard screen pass late in the third quarter that put St. John's (13-0) ahead for good. In the fourth quarter, Nelson caught a short pass in a crowd at the 1 yard line and muscled into the end zone.
He added a 1-yard touchdown run to cap the scoring on St. John's 22nd consecutive win at Clemens Stadium.
It will be St. John's first trip to the championship game since 2000, when they lost 10-7 to Mount Union. The last national title for the Johnnies, who are making their 15th postseason appearance, was in 1976 when they beat Towson State 31-28.
RPI (11-2) had little success against St. John's defense, which chased quarterback Dan Cole out of the pocket and all over the field. Cole, averaging 286 passing yards per game, was 26-for-46 for 237 yards. He was intercepted twice, with Cole Delbele returning one 36 yards for a touchdown.
The Engineers had won three consecutive playoff games, the first postseason football victories in school history.
Trailing 7-0, Cole managed to avoid St. John's furious rush, leading RPI on an 11-play, 66-yard drive that was capped by a 21-yard pass to Dan Stephens. Following a St. John's turnover, one of three in the game, the Engineers went ahead on a 28-yard field goal by Matt Verenini.
St. John's also had trouble moving the ball in the first half, getting into RPI territory only twice following Keating's first touchdown pass to Nelson. One of those possessions led to Brandon Keller's 32-yard field goal, which tied the game at 10.