The football game, which was the showpiece of St. John's University Homecoming Weekend, did not disappoint the 1,215 fans, huddled in their winter clothes due to the usually unruly wind at DaSilva Memorial Field.
The St. John's offense, led by freshman quarterback Matt Millheiser, didn't play spectacularly, but it didn't need to. The defensive unit set up the Red Storm offense throughout the contest with great field position, as St. John's only needed to go on drives of 22 and 18 yards for two of its three offensive touchdowns.
"Our defense played great," Ricca said. "Especially on a day like this with the wind. We took advantage of their [LaSalle's] turnovers and capitalized. We clicked a bit on offense today, but we have to rely on the defense to win big games for us."
Throughout the season Ricca has looked to his stalwart defense to bail out his inexperienced offense. Ricca employed a conservative offensive game plan in the confines of the windy home field, which made it hard to pass. Millheiser threw for 78 yards on 7-of-13 passing.
While the offense sputtered at times, it took advantage of the superb field position provided by the defense that clearly dominated play. In the first quarter, safety Danny Kelskey blocked a LaSalle punt giving St John's the ball deep in Explorer territory. The SJU offense then set up a four-play, 22-yard drive that was capped off by a Durron Newman six-yard touchdown run. After a Lawrence Tunnell extra point, the score would stay 7-0 heading into halftime.
"When you have a defense that can get the ball for you, like they did today, you should be in good shape," Ricca said. "Instead of throwing the ball and risking incompletions or interceptions, we ran the ball well."
Playing with the wind to their back in the second half, the Red Storm scored three touchdowns in a span of a little over four minutes in third quarter.
The St. John's offense looked efficient on a 12-play, 54-yard drive that was finished off with a 1-yard touchdown run by Newman in the third quarter. Millheiser utilized an effective short passing game, as Newman looked confident on the ground, smashing his way to 72 yards on 25 carries. Newman's second rushing touchdown of the day made it 14-0 in favor of St. John's.
"The defense really helped me out today and made my job easier," Newman said while exhaling a sigh of relief. "I love the defense, man. I always want a three-and-out all the time so the offense can get on the field and score."
Just more than a minute later, St. John's would dispel any LaSalle hopes at a comeback, scoring its third touchdown. Millheiser connected with receiver Matt May for an 18-yard hookup in the end zone. Kelskey, who registered seven tackles on the afternoon, set up the play previously on a fumble recovery at the LaSalle 18-yard line.
Still after a 21-point explosion by St. John's the game was not over. SJU cornerback Jamal Lambert intercepted a Brian Small flea flicker that was tossed up as a prayer into the St. John's secondary. Lambert took the pigskin and raced 77 yards to pay-dirt.
"That ball hung up in the air for a long time," said senior linebacker Josiah Mooney. "[LaSalle] had huge keys in their offense. We knew what they were going to do and read them all afternoon. I have no idea what they were thinking lobbing that ball up with the wind in their faces. Jamal [Lambert] read it and took it home."
The previously unbeaten Explorers would end their scoring drought with 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter. St. John's sophomore quarterback Josh Krapf subbed into the game and fumbled his first snap from center. LaSalle linebacker Kevin Campbell recovered the ball in the end zone for a safety.
With a four-game losing streak behind them, St. John's has confidence that the worst is over. After scoring 28 points the Red Storm can afford to be optimistic. However, when SJU returns to conference play at Wagner on Saturday at 1 p.m., St. John's knows it is not out of the woods yet. There is plenty of football left to be played.
"We're just going to have to step it up another notch," Newman said. "Today was a really big win and we needed it. Wagner is not going to lay down for us. We've corrected the mistakes [from the Robert Morris game] and we're tired of losing. Now we've won two straight."
©2000 Community News Group
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