St. Thomas fans are getting used to the 90-minute drive to St. John’s. After hosting the game once in the last four years, the Tommies will make the trek to the annual Tommie-Johnnie game Saturday, Sept. 15.
The last time the Tommies and Johnnies played each other in the third week of the season was 1999. The game’s location and timing in the season are two things St. Thomas Athletic Director Steve Fritz said the teams can’t control because MIAC conference officials choose who hosts by a random two-year draw.
“There isn’t much choice (for the game location),” Fritz said.
The two-year draw for the 2012 and 2013 Tommie-Johnnie games resulted in away-home, meaning St. John’s will host in 2012, and St. Thomas in 2013.
“Our seniors this year will only have played once at home, and that’s the hard part about it,” Fritz said.
Senior Alyssa Hollenback attended the 2010 game in Collegeville, Minn., and last year’s home match-up. This year, however, she said she is not going.
“I just enjoy it a lot more when it’s actually here on campus. I know we’re going to win, so there’s really no point in me driving there to go see it,” Hollenback said.
Hollenback said she’s disappointed that St. Thomas has hosted one game in the last four years.
“I think it’s unfair. It should be here every other year,” Hollenback said.
Fritz said he thinks that the game’s location won’t change the atmosphere because the 81-year rivalry is alive and well.
“You’d love to have it every other year on your home campus, but this is a big enough rivalry, no matter where it is, people are going to be interested and involved,” Fritz said.
St. John’s Athletic Director Tom Stock said St. John’s is expecting between 10,000 to 12,000 people on Saturday, which is smaller than the last time the Johnnies hosted.
In 2010, when the Tommies played at Clemens Stadium, not only was it the biggest game of the year, but it was homecoming for St. John’s and broke an NCAA Division III attendance record at 16,421.
Stock said Gov. Mark Dayton will attend, and spend half of the game on the St. John’s side and half on the St. Thomas side.
“He’s obviously a Division III football fan and wants to be at this contest,” Stock said.
Saturday’s game will be the 81st football contest between the two schools, and sophomore Sara Kitze said she won’t miss out on it.
“Everyone’s super excited for it just because it’s such an old rivalry. It’s cool that it’s still a big deal. I would still go, regardless of where it’s at,” Kitze said.
St. John’s will be wearing new uniforms when they play the Tommies on new turf. However, Stock said the Tommie-Johnnie game is important, regardless of new additions or equipment.
“This game always is pressure for both schools,” Stock said. “It’s for bragging rights.”
Pressure may be on coach John Gagliardi, who will be celebrating his 60th year and 600th game coaching St. John’s.
When the game is over, Stock said he thinks there will be a closer gap in the scores than last year when the Tommies defeated the Johnnies 63-7.
“St. Thomas took it to the Johnnies pretty good, and yet I think St. John’s will be much more competitive this year,” Stock said.
Fritz said Tommie and Johnnie fans can look forward to an exciting atmosphere and great Division III football.
“It’s one of the great, great rivalries in Division III. It’s the best there is, Fritz said.
Tommie-Johnnie outcomes since 2002:
2011: St. Thomas 63, St. John’s 7
2010: St. Thomas 27, St. John’s 26
2009: St. John’s 20, St. Thomas 17
2008: St. John’s 12, St. Thomas 9
2007: St. John’s 51, St. Thomas 34
2006: St. John’s 27, St. Thomas 7
2005: St. John’s 48, St. Thomas 14
2004: St. John’s 21, St. Thomas 0
2003: St. John’s 15, St. Thomas 12
2002: St. John’s 48, St. Thomas 28
Heidi Enninga can be reached at email@example.com.