Cobbers ready for Johnnies
Concordia coach Terry Horan knows what its like to defeat perennial Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference football power St. John's. As a receiver at Concordia from 1985 to 1988, Horan helped the Cobbers to two victories against legen...
Concordia coach Terry Horan knows what its like to defeat perennial Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference football power St. John's.
As a receiver at Concordia from 1985 to 1988, Horan helped the Cobbers to two victories against legendary coach John Gagliardi and the Johnnies.
The problem is, Horan and a handful of his assistant coaches are the only ones among the current Cobbers who know the feeling.
The Johnnies, who have won three of the last four MIAC titles, are 9-0-2 against Concordia since 1990.
But all that can change when the Cobbers host No. 6 St. John's on Saturday at 1 p.m. at Jake Christiansen Stadium
With just three games remaining in the regular season, both teams are 5-0 in the MIAC and battling for the conference title for the first time since 1995. That year, the Cobbers and Johnnies played to a 14-14 tie and finished as conference co-champions.
"We control our own destiny," Horan said. "We want to go 3-0 to end the season and St. John's is as big of a game as we're going to have."
Odds are it won't be a low-scoring tie this time.
The Johnnies, ranked No. 5 in Don Hansen's National Weekly Football Gazette, average over 40 points and over 400 yards of total offense per game.
The Johnnies, winners of six consecutive games, have seen their share of adversity, however.
Senior starting quarterback Ryan Keating, a former University of Minnesota basketball player who led the Johnnies to the NCAA Division III national semifinals last season, suffered a season-ending arm injury against Wisconsin-Whitewater in Week 3.
Junior defensive tackle Matt Darling, who had 4½ sacks last season, suffered a knee injury during the same game.
Still, the Johnnies didn't miss a beat.
Backup signal-caller Ross Denne, a senior who split time with Keating last season, has 1,177 passing yards and 13 touchdowns.
Denne's favorite target is junior receiver Blake Elliott, a preseason All-American. Elliott, also one of the conference's top punt returners, has 55 receptions for 696 yards and 10 touchdowns.
"Offensively, they've got a lot of weapons," Horan said. "And Blake Elliott is just outstanding. They've been running the ball a little better the last couple years, but they're still a pass first, run second type of offense."
The Johnnies (6-1) average 156 rushing yards a game and 3.7 yards per carry.
Concordia has been successful with a completely different approach.
The Cobbers, led by junior quarterback Ryan Hebrink, rely almost completely on their power running game.
Concordia (5-2) averages over 180 rushing yards and almost 50 attempts per contest.
Hebrink leads the team with 403 yards and eight rushing touchdowns. He also has 891 yards and nine scores via the pass.
"They've got an excellent team," Gagliardi said. "They can run and they can pass. They've got everything. We certainly have our hands full."
Both teams have been just as dominant defensively.
The Cobbers have the No. 1-ranked defense in the MIAC, allowing less than 200 yards of total offense per game. St. John's, led by junior defensive end Jeremy Hood, is No. 2 in the conference.
Hood, who had 14 sacks last season, leads the Johnnies with seven sacks. Senior defensive back Jason Pflipsen leads the conference with seven interceptions.
"It's very exciting," said Hebrink, who played his first collegiate game against St. John's in 2000. "We've been talking about this game since the offseason and its finally here. The past history doesn't make a bit of difference when we step on the field Saturday."
Readers can reach Forum reporter Heath Hotzler at (701) 241-5562