MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – It’s without question the biggest game in the history of the St. Thomas football program.
Then again, that could’ve been said about three or four times this season, but it’s been especially relevant since the Tommies won the MIAC and entered the NCAA Division III Playoffs. St. Thomas (12-0), ranked No. 3 nationally, travels to No. 1-ranked UW-Whitewater at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in one of two semifinals.
The winner advances to the Division III National Championship, the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl, next weekend in Salem, Va. This week might be the first time all season St. Thomas won’t be favored to win. UW-Whitewater has won the last two national titles, 43 straight games and 25 straight home games.
The Warhawks have built a championship caliber winning tradition over the last 10 to 15 years. The Tommies have started what they hope is a journey to get there, winning the MIAC the last two years and getting to the NCAA quarterfinals two straight years. St. Thomas had its season come to a surprising end last year, losing to Bethel at home in the quarterfinals.
The Tommies have some numbers of their own that are impressive. Over the past two seasons they are 25-1, which includes a 10-0 mark against opponents outside the conference and a 9-0 record in road games. St. Thomas is also 38-3 in its last 41 games under Glenn Caruso.
When you look at the match-up, it has all the makings of a true battle on paper. Whitewater averages more than 37 points per game and allows just 11. St. Thomas is averaging about 40 points per game and is allowing less than 10 (9.4).
The Warhawks average more than 230 yards per game on the ground and have scored 35 rushing touchdowns. They allow just 86 yards per game and have given up 10 touchdowns on the season. St. Thomas averages more than 235 yards on the ground per game and has 47 scores, while they allow less than 50 yards per game and have given up just six scores. Those figures are good for second in nation against the run.
Levell Coppage is Whitewater’s leading rusher with more than 147 yards per game and 27 scores. Colin Tobin, with the help of two 200-plus yard rushing games in the playoffs, is averaging more than 121 yards per game and has 22 scores.
On the passing side, Dakota Tracy is averaging 170 yards per game and has 22 touchdowns on the year. Whitewater’s Matt Blanchard averages almost 200 yards per game and has 22 touchdowns.
In a match-up that’s so even on paper, the only real edge the Tommies have is with wide receiver Fritz Waldvogel, a finalist for the Gagliardi Award, given to the top player in Division III football every year. Waldvogel has 72 catches, averages more than 91 yards per game and has 13 touchdowns. He’s also a threat to score at any time on special teams.
After looking at all the statistics, the team that wins the battle at the line of scrimmage will win Saturday’s game. Both teams clearly game plan to run the ball and stop the run.
Turnovers will obviously also be a huge factor in the contest if they happen. But at this point it looks to be a game that’s too close to call between two great teams. That’s exactly the way you want it to be when you’re this close to a national title.
If you aren’t planning on traveling to Whitewater for the game, tune into WCCO Radio 830 AM as Dave Lee and Eric Nelson will have the call. You can also find a live web stream of the game on wcco.com, and Saturday’s game can even be seen on TV as ESPN3 and Twin Cities local WCUW-TV will broadcast the game.