COLLEGEVILLE, MINN. – Concordia was racing the clock from its 45 and quarterback Blake Kragnes gunned a pass down the right sideline. Cornerback Sam Westby moved in front of the receiver and went up slightly to get the football in his grasp.
As Westby came toward the turf, Concordia’s Jason Montonye reached in and tried to gain a share of possession.
“I was right there on the sideline,’’ the Johnnies’ Evan Clark said. “I knew Sam had the ball.’’
The Cobbers were insistent that Montonye also had a grip on the ball and that those plays are supposed to go to the receiver. There was a conference of the officials and then a signal that it was St. John’s football.
There was one minute left and the Johnnies were able to kneel down a couple of times for a 10-3 victory. Basically, this guaranteed that St. John’s (9-1) will join MIAC champion St. Thomas (9-1) as part the NCAA Division III playoff bracket when it is announced late Sunday afternoon.
“I’m a receiver, so I’m usually saying, ‘Tie belongs to the receiver,’ in that situation,’’ Clark said. “This time, if the referee didn’t call it an interception, I might have had a few words to say.’’
I’m betting that while unhappy, Clark’s words would have been polite. This young man came to St. John’s five years ago from Phoenix, and was a preseason Division III All-America entering his senior season.
He missed a game with a bad ankle and was limited for a while with that injury. And there was considerable double-teaming to prevent him from getting deep.
Clark has 27 catches for 445 yards and six touchdowns, 12 rushes for 200 yards and two touchdowns, and also nine kick returns for 187 yards. That’s All-Conference, not All-America.
Listen not-that-closely and you can hear Johnnies fans complaining that a more relentless effort should have been made to get the football to Clark — particularly in the 20-17 loss to St. Thomas on Sept. 23.
“Concordia has a good defense, and they kept me out of the end zone today,’’ Clark said. “If I can get two defenders to follow me and someone gets open, that’s great. As long as our team wins, I don’t mind at all.’’
Concordia opened this season with a victory over Wisconsin-Whitewater, the perennial Division III power. The Cobbers scheduled the game to improve their chances of getting more consideration for the D-III playoffs were they to finish 8-2.
It looked like a terrific idea after the victory, and then the Cobbers lost Michael Herzog, their outstanding senior quarterback, to a season-ending injury. This came before a 21-0 loss to St. Thomas in the first week of October.
Again, the Cobbers are 8-2 and with faint hope of winding up with one of the five at-large berths in the playoffs.
“One of these years, the bounces are going to go our way,’’ said Terry Horan, Concordia’s coach, in a raspy voice. The rasp came from screaming from the far sideline than Montonye had a reception on the game’s decisive play.
The Cobbers made a field goal on the last play of the third quarter to make it 10-3, and then came the bad bounces:
St. John’s punter Naufahu Anitoni had punts downed by special-teamer Brandon Beranek on the Cobbers 1-, 2- and 6-yard lines. The middle of those punts was extra short, and then bounced merrily along to near the goal line.
Those aren’t ideal places to start all three possessions in the fourth quarter against the Johnnies defense.
Leonard Gutierrez, Westby’s fellow starter, had an interception in the first half. He came to St. John’s from Phoenix a year after Clark. They are both seniors because Clark missed most of the 2015 season with a torn bicep.
“I was going to stay here and rehab all summer in 2016,’’ Clark said. “Leonard said we Phoenix guys would stick together, and he stayed here to work out with me. We also worked on campus, painting dorms, offices, for a couple of months.’’
Gutierrez already had claimed to being a much-better painter than was Clark. “There’s no doubt about that,’’ Clark said. “He was much neater than me.’’
As Clark was being interviewed in the MIAC’s postgame mingle, fans kept offering congratulations. He thanked all and threw in, “Thanks for coming out to watch us. See you here next week, we hope.’’
Nice young man. “And now get Clark the ball more often in the playoffs,’’ Johnnies fans insist.
Patrick Reusse can be heard 3-6 p.m. weekdays on AM-1500. • email@example.com