MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – The St. Thomas football team used a dominant second half to top Monmouth College (Ill.) 38-10 on Saturday in the second round of the NCAA Division III Playoffs. Their reward: Playing a team they’ve never faced.
That win, coupled with St. John Fisher’s upset win over Delaware Valley, means the Tommies will host one more home playoff game this Saturday. The winner of St. Thomas and St. John Fisher advances to the NCAA Semifinals to likely play UW-Whitewater, a perennial Division III powerhouse.
The biggest challenge that the Tommies have in facing the Cardinals: The two teams have never faced each other. You can prepare all you want with game film and by watching tendencies, but until you get on the field and the ball is kicked off, you really don’t know what you’ll face.
St. Thomas is more excited about that challenge than it is nervous. It helps when you’re playing at home and the program is 42-6 under Glenn Caruso’s leadership.
“Part of the beauty of the playoffs is the uncertainty of who you’re playing,” Caruso said. “When you face an unknown team, that’s where you see if your coaches can adjust and if your players can absorb those adjustments.”
St. John Fisher averages nearly 31 points per game and gives up about 18. It also averages more than 207 rushing yards per game, led by a quarterback in Ryan Kramer who is really another running back behind center. He has 964 rushing yards and 12 rushing touchdowns, but his 1,500-plus passing yards and 13 passing touchdowns can’t be ignored either.
Cody Miller and Ryan Schmidt are two of the Cardinals other featured running backs. Ryan Francis also has nine receiving touchdowns on the year.
St. John Fisher runs a version of the pistol offense where any one of three different players can get the ball after it’s snapped. It’s an offense that requires a defense to be gap disciplined and fast to the football.
“It’s the same old story, an unstoppable force against an immovable object,” Caruso said. “Their brand is good and they’ve seen good teams. There schemes are an anamole compared to what we’ve seen, so it will be a great test.”
Caruso said Saturday’s game, which is slated for a noon kickoff at O’Shaughnessy Stadium in St. Paul, will come down to ball security and navigating through the unknowns that St. John Fisher will present them.
The turnover battle will be especially important as the Tommies uncharacteristically had a pass intercepted and lost two fumbles in the first half against Monmouth. St. John Fisher is averaging a plus-3 in the turnover ratio in at least their last three games. In looking at their stats, they appear have some skilled players in their secondary.
The Cardinals intercepted four Delaware Valley passes last week, five passes two weeks ago and three in their regular season finale.
“Ball security is a priority, not just because we had an issue with it last week but because they’re living on turnovers lately,” Caruso said.
The Tommies and Cardinals will be broadcast live on WCCO Radio 830 AM starting at about 11:50 a.m. The game will also be streamed live on wcco.com. Glenn Caruso will also be in studio Sunday night on Rosen’s Sports Sunday to talk about Saturday’s game.