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Falcons outrushed by Johnnies in season opener

September 18, 2008

With 57 rushing attempts for 215 yards, the No. 7-ranked St. John’s University was able to control the game and defeat UW-River Falls 22-6 in the season opener for the Falcons at Collegeville, Minn.

SJU used a balanced rushing attack and had the ball for 37:30 compared to the Falcons 22:30, and was able to do so while averaging 3.8 yards per carry.

SJU’s Jeff Schnobrich led all running backs in yardage and attempts with 76 yards on 26 attempts, but only 2.7 yards a touch. Jacob Reding of the Johnnies was close behind with 71 yards on 12 attempts.

“I’ve never seen them run the ball that much before,” UWRF head coach John O’Grady said. “Usually they’re not that kind of a team.”

Conditions were wet and slippery which did not allow SJU to use its quarterback and wide receiver play as much O’Grady said.

SJU scored the first possession of the game, capped off by a Michael Crees to Brett Saladin touchdown pass, one of few passes thrown by the Johnnies, who are known for having a passing attack.

A field goal early in the second quarter by SJU kicker Russell Gliadon from 29 yards made it 10-0, a score that stood until the fourth.

Senior Falcon quarterback Storm Harmon punched in a run from the one yard line on third and goal. The extra point was failed on a mishandled snap.

SJU put the game out of reach on a Schnobrich touchdown run from four yards and Crees put one in the end zone with his legs, running in a score from the six.

The Falcons managed to put up 86 yards on the ground with 27 rushes. Sophomore running back Matt Pollock led the Falcons with 48 yards on 14 attempts and Harmon had 34 yards on eight attempts and the lone UWRF touchdown from one yard out.

“Offense has a lot of work to do,” O’Grady said. “It’s back to the drawing board.”

Another area of concern O’Grady had was with the pass protection. Some of the younger Falcon offensive lineman missed blocks and Harmon had SJU defenders in his face all afternoon, O’Grady said.

Harmon was 12-22 passing for 117 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. His main target was senior tight end and second team All-WIAC last year, Ryan Hansen, who had seven receptions for 65 yards. It was Hansen’s 21-yard reception early in the fourth quarter that set up Harmon’s touchdown run.

“Give them (SJU) credit,” O’Grady said. “We never hear about their defense and how good it is. Usually it’s just about their quarterbacks and receivers.”

Falcons punter Eric Stoller was busy with eight punts on the day.

“A lot of pressure was put on our kicking,” O’Grady said.

It was hard for the UWRF offense to get in sync with the pressure by SJU, Harmon said.

“We never got into rhythm,” Harmon said. “We had a few three and outs early and we got a little rattled.”

UWRF was able to get two interceptions off Crees and force three fumbles while recovering one.

“We were able to get some turnovers and usually you win games when you have more turnovers,” O’Grady said.

Overall, O’Grady said he was not happy mostly because the lack of offense.

“Disappointing,” he said. “We never really established anything offensively and it put a lot on our defense.”

Before the game, UWRF Athletic Director Rick Bowen said this season is particularly important for the football team.

“We’ve been near the bottom for a few season now with a string of 3-7 seasons,” he said. “We have all Div. III games this year which is even more important and are committed to get football back on track.”

UWRF does not begin WIAC play until Oct. 4 against Stevens Point, also the Homecoming game.

When conference play does begin it will be fun to watch it pan out, O’Grady said.

“I think this year in the WIAC will be one of the exciting ones within the last four or five years,” he said. “Everyone’s looking at Whitewater, but I’ve talked to some people down there and I hear they’re inexperienced. Teams better watch out for Eau Claire and La Crosse because it sounds like people are doing some good things at those schools.”

Whitewater is three-time defending conference champions.

The Falcons have their home opener this Saturday against Northwestern College (Minn.).