The teams played evenly in the first half. St. John's struck first, as Mike Patnode scored the first of his two touchdowns. The Oles replied with a touchdown and a field goal, though they botched the snap on the extra point. A later faulty snap on a field goal attempt also hurt St. Olaf.
In the second quarter, the Johnnies answered with another touchdown and appeared to have momentum heading into halftime. However, Andrew Schmiesing '08, who was held to just five yards receiving, returned a punt 75 yards for a touchdown to put the Oles up 16-14. St. John's notched a field goal as the clock expired for a one-point lead at the half.
After halftime, the Oles struck again on an eight-yard run by Cody Watkins '09 and one of three field goals from Paul Fortman '08. They led 26-17 with the ball deep in St. John's territory, but could not execute.
"We had a chance to extend the margin by making some plays," Head Coach Chris Meidt said. "Because we didn't make those plays, it gave St. John's some momentum."
Once St. John's got the ball back, they controlled it for nearly the entire fourth quarter. Just four minutes into the quarter, they scored twice in drives of under two minutes apiece, racking up 148 yards on the touchdown drives.
Down 30-26, St. Olaf responded with another Fortman field goal to close the gap to 30-29. With the wind at their back, two timeouts remaining and a defense that had held St. John's for most of the day, Meidt assumed he would at least have another shot at a field goal.
However, the Johnnies marched down the field after converting a key third down and ran the clock out to send the Oles back to Northfield pinned with their first loss.
Over 12,000 fans attended the contest. "It was a great game atmosphere," Meidt said. "It was a great college football game and an exciting game down to the last minute. We played OK. Not great, not bad, but OK."
However, Meidt still lauded his players. "We showed great poise," said Meidt. "We weren't overwhelmed by the situation. We just didn't play up to our full ability."
The St. John's defense, ranked first in the MIAC, held star quarterback Matt Penz '08 to 216 yards passing with one touchdown and one interception. He completed just 17 of 43 passes. Schmiesing, who scored four touchdowns in the homecoming win against Gustavus, caught just one short pass. On the heels of his punt return, he was named MIAC Special Teams Player of the Week.
Horace Gant '08 caught six balls for 101 yards to tie Tom Buslee '94 for the career record with 160 receptions. Gant added the Oles' lone touchdown reception.
The Johnnies were led by quarterback Alex Kofoed, who threw for 318 yards and three touchdowns while narrowly averting a couple interceptions.
Fortman nailed all three of his field goal attempts. On the ground, Watkins rushed for 61 yards and caught four passes for 58 yards. Evan Endsley added 53 yards of total offense and 88 return yards.
However, the Ole offense compiled 349 yards and 29 points, well below their season averages.
The defense also allowed the most points by a St. Olaf opponent this season, though they managed to hold St. John's to less than half of their season rushing average. Adam Concannon '09 had 15 tackles.
Players took the loss hard. "It was a devastating loss," Meidt said. "When you invest heavily, losing hurts, and our players invest heavily."
The loss also knocks St. Olaf from a tie for the MIAC lead. To make the playoffs, they likely need to win all four remaining games. Notable games against Bethel and the Cereal Bowl against Carleton remain.
Next up on the schedule is a home date with Concordia-Moorhead, which is 4-2, and according to Meidt, is just one play from being 5-1.
Last season, St. Olaf beat Concordia for the first time in five years. The "Troll Trophy" will be on the line against the Cobbers 1:00 p.m. Saturday at Manitou Field.
Despite the loss, St. Olaf moved from 18th to 13th in the D3football.com poll.