MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – A 10-0 regular season and a MIAC championship was a great accomplishment for the St. Thomas football team, but it’s just one step in the journey for Glenn Caruso’s squad this season.
The Tommies, unblemished on the season and ranked No. 3 nationally, now face the weekly ultimatum of a loss meaning the season is over. St. Thomas was the lone MIAC team to earn a trip into the NCAA Division III Playoffs, and the team learned Sunday it will host St. Scholastica at about noon on Saturday.
It’s an interesting match-up for St. Thomas. St. Scholastica’s football program is just in its fourth season, but the Saints are also 10-0 and are in the playoffs by virtue of winning the UMAC title. The Tommies and Saints have never played each other, giving St. Thomas the freshest of starts in a new season.
“We’re getting a chance to play another undefeated team in your own state. It’s a pretty rare thing,” Caruso said.
Now that they’re 10 games into the season, the Tommies know their strengths heading into Saturday’s game. They’re led offensively by one of the best quarterback-receiver duos in the nation in Dakota Tracy and Fritz Waldvogel. Not to be forgotten is running back Colin Tobin, and Dan Noehring is also a weapon in the receiving corps.
Defensively, they rely on Tony Danna on the line, Jack Gavin in the secondary and one of their primary playmakers is Chinni Oji. Willy Baregi is also one of their standouts at linebacker.
The Tommies defensive unit is ranked second in the nation against the run (54.4 yards per game) and fourth in the nation when it comes to points allowed. They’re averaging about 10 points per game there.
They will have their hands full with the Saints offense. Quarterback Alex Thiry is having one of the best statistical years in the country with 37 passing touchdowns and only one interception. He’s also averaging about 255 yards per game. They also have three legitimate running backs, a group that’s led by Travis Nehowig, who has 712 yards on the ground and nine touchdowns.
“Their passing game is pretty amazing. I’m real interested to see how our defensive team speed does against them,” Caruso said. “Any time you have those kind of stats, you’re good and balanced. They have multiple playmakers.”
Caruso said his team has had an intense week of practice, something that’s not surprising given the circumstances. It’s the first week where a loss means the end of a season for St. Thomas and the football careers for the team’s senior class.
With all the success the program has had lately, the team feels it would be far too early for it all to end now. Caruso said setting the tone early in the Tommies’ favor will be one of the big keys on Saturday.
“Getting off to a good start is so important. Coming off the bye week it’s just pivotal,” Caruso said. “The fan base they’ll bring is going to be great, and rightfully so for them. They’re playing great football. It should be a lot of fun and the guys are excited. You can tell at practice they know what’s going on.”
Playoff experience is also on the side of St. Thomas, which has six playoff wins the last two seasons.
St. Thomas and St. Scholastica kick off at noon Saturday at O’Shaughnessy Stadium in St. Paul. If you’re not going to the game, tune into WCCO Radio 830 AM as Dave Lee and Eric Nelson will have the call. There will also be a live web stream of the call available on wcco.com.