Big St. John’s comeback and 4 other Minnesota college football story lines

Mark Vancleave, Star Tribune/Star Tribune/TNS

In 2022, St. John's coach Gary Fasching called his team's schedule "the toughest" the program had encountered in his 27 years on the Johnnies coaching staff.

The Johnnies opened that season with three ranked opponents — No. 4 Wisconsin-Whitewater, No. 18 UW-River Falls and No. 13 Bethel.

This fall's St. John's schedule is just as daunting.

The Johnnies rallied to top No. 4 Trinity 34-31 last Saturday. The Johnnies travel to No. 8 Whitewater this week. After a bye week, the Johnnies begin MIAC play on Sept. 23 against Bethel.

Against Trinity, the Johnnies trailed 21-7 at halftime and 31-14 early in the fourth quarter before scoring the final 20 points of the game. It was their biggest comeback from a halftime deficit since Oct. 8, 1994, when they rallied from 28-13 down for a 35-34 victory over St. Thomas.

Here are four other Minnesota college football story lines this week:

Bethel's challenge

Bethel, ranked No. 16 in the poll , will open its season Saturday at home against Wartburg.

Wartburg, which reached the semifinals of the D-III playoffs last season, is ranked No. 3 — tied for the highest ranking in school history. The Knights opened their season on Sept. 2 with a 62-35 victory over Monmouth.

Hunter Clasen, a 5-foot-9 fifth-year senior, rushed 23 times for a career-high 247 yards and a school-record six touchdowns to lead the Knights. Clasen rushed for 1,584 yards and 21 touchdowns last season.

It's the first meeting between the two since 2018, when Bethel won 41-14 in the first round of the D-III playoffs.

MSU Mankato shares load

Minnesota State Mankato, ranked No. 7 in the poll, opened the season on Aug. 31 with a 54-26 victory over Sioux Falls.

The Mavericks rushed for 461 yards behind the running of Christian Vasser and Shen Butler-Lawson. Vasser gained 139 of his 144 rushing yards in the first half, while Butler-Lawson rushed for all of his 221 yards (in just nine carries) and four touchdowns in the second half. Butler-Lawson's total was the sixth-highest in program history. Butler-Lawson, a junior from Augusta, Ga., was the Offensive Player of the Week.

The Mavericks play host to Wayne State this week.

Bemidji State's balance

Bemidji State breezed to a 49-13 season-opening victory over Northern State last week, scoring on its first three offensive possessions and leading 36-6 by halftime.

The Beavers, ranked No. 10 in the poll, finished with 424 yards in offense. They rushed for 216 yards, led by transfer Ali Mohamed's 113 yards in seven carries, and passed for 208 yards.

The victory was the 53rd at the school for coach Brent Bolte. Bolte, who has coached the Beavers since 2016, moved into a tie for second most coaching victories in program history. He tied H.J. Erickson who was 53-55-5 between 1938 and 1954.

Tommies hit the road

St. Thomas won its 27th consecutive home game Saturday, defeating Black Hills State 36-26. Now, the Tommies play their next two games on the road.

This week, the Tommies travel to Vermillion, S.D., to take on the South Dakota Coyotes. It will be just the second meeting between the two. The Tommies played in Vermillion in 1979, with the Coyotes winning 22-6.

On Sept. 16, the Tommies will play at Harvard. That game will be Harvard's season-opener.