By Dylan Butler
Not even the highly anticipated return of freshman starting quarterback Kyle Lauver from the injured reserve could spark the St. John’s football to victory, as the Red Storm lost its sixth straight game, 12-7, to Northeast Conference foe Central Connecticut State in front of 512 at DaSilva Memorial Field Friday night.
Lauver, who missed five games with a fractured right foot, was supposed to provide a much-needed spark to a Red Storm team desperately searching for something positive. Instead sophomore tailback Derek Jones — the Red Storm’s one-man running game — replaced Lauver on the injury list, missing the game with a nagging toe injury.
“That’s the type of year it’s been,” said St. John’s head coach Bob Ricca. “I’ve never had one like it.”
So once again, the Red Storm offense was one-dimensional. Jones, who averages 66.4 yards per game, carried a St. John’s team featuring third- and fourth-string quarterbacks Matt Millheiser and Jamie Longo with Lauver and backup quarterback Marc Saracino both out with injury.
Just when the passing game returned with a healthy Lauver, the running game was non-existent without Jones as the Red Storm garnered 21 yards on 21 attempts.
“Every loss hurts, but a game like hurts even more because we played hard. We thought we could win all week,” said junior wide receiver Matt May, who had five catches for 89 yards. “It seems like this year we can never catch a break.”
At times Lauver did struggle to shake off the cobwebs from being out of the lineup since Sept. 21 — ironically the last time St. John’s was in the win column as the Red Storm defeated Stony Brook 16-13 in overtime in the team’s last Friday night home game — but he did a great job of avoiding what seemed like constant pressure, scrambling out of the pocket and either finding the open man or rushing for a couple yards.
“He played with a lot of heart, a lot of guts,” Ricca said. “It’s the first time he saw a rush [in five weeks] and it was a little different back there. It’s all part of being rusty.”
After Central Connecticut State (2-6, 2-4) jumped ahead 6-0 on Clinton Dunston’s 10-yard touchdown run with 9:12 left in the first quarter, Lauver (14-of-27 for 164 yards) orchestrated a four-play, 80-yard scoring drive at the start of the second quarter, capped by a 31-yard touchdown pass to Vernon Manuel to give St. John’s (1-7, 1-6) a 7-6 lead with 12:19 left in the first half.
While Blue Devils freshman quarterback Scott Dolch (8-of-18 for 95 yards) also threw well, it was the running game, led by Dunston (31 carries for 139 yards), that helped Central Connecticut State sustain long drives and eat up valuable minutes off the clock.
The Blue Devils gained 217 total yards on the ground, the third straight game the St. John’s defense allowed 200-plus yards of rushing. Central Connecticut State also dominated possession, 37:24 minutes compared to the Red Storm’s 22:36.
Four plays after Lauver’s first of two interceptions, the Blue Devils scored the go-ahead touchdown on Clinton’s 7-yard run. After Brian Frederick missed the extra point on Central Connecticut’s first touchdown, Blue Devils head coach Paul Schudel tried to make up for it by going for the two-point conversion, but Dolch’s pass was incomplete as the Blue Devils led 12-7 with 4:06 left in the third quarter.
With time winding down in the fourth quarter, the Red Storm had one more chance to possibly march down field for the game-winning score, but on 3rd and 13 from their own 33, Dolch caught the St. John’s defense by surprise as he rushed for 14 yards on a naked bootleg to ice the game.
St. John’s may finally get some good news next week as Jones is expected to return to the starting lineup, finally giving the Red Storm its complete offensive attack as the Red Storm heads to Long Branch, N.J., to face Monmouth Saturday at 1 p.m.
The bad news? St. John's will do so against Monmouth (6-1, 4-0), one of the top-ranked defenses in the country among Division I-AA teams.
Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 143.