Reporting Jeff Wald
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – There’s a lot more than perfection on the line Saturday as the St. Thomas football team travels to Moorhead to face Concordia College.
The Tommies enter the contest ranked No. 3 in the nation, where they’ve been most of the season, while the Cobbers are creeping up the national rankings at No. 17. If the Tommies want to get as far or even further than they did last season, Saturday is a must-win. At 8-0, including 6-0 in the MIAC, St. Thomas can clinch at least a share of the MIAC crown with a victory over the Cobbers.
St. Thomas can win the MIAC outright with a win Saturday and a Bethel loss at St. Olaf, which given the conference this year, is entirely possible. The Tommies can also win it outright if they simply win their final two games and finish another regular season undefeated. It would be their third straight conference crown.
Glenn Caruso isn’t concerned with possibilities. All he cares about is winning on Saturday.
“What we’re focusing on is winning our third straight conference championship, and the only way we can do that is with a win this weekend,” Caruso said.
One of the many hurdles in playing Concordia on the road is the long travel. The Tommies are avoiding that by bussing up to Moorhead on Friday, doing walk-throughs on the field and making any last adjustments before taking the field Sunday. That eliminates any possibilities of a long bus ride Saturday morning leaving the team stiff before kickoff.
St. Thomas beat Concordia 48-30 last year in its second MIAC game. The Tommies know Saturday won’t be easy by any means. The Cobbers played Bethel to the last play only to have a potential upset come up short. They’ve also beaten St. John’s and Augsburg.
“They’re a very traditional Concordia team. We just believe it’s a program that has everything in place,” Caruso said. “They have great coaches and a great system. It’s going to be very tough.”
The Cobbers can score with ease, and they’re not afraid to run the ball. They average about 427 yards of total offense a game, with more than 263 coming in the ground game.
Running back Brett Baune leads the rushing attack with more than 11 yards a game and nine touchdowns on the season. Quarterback Griffin Neal is their second-leading rusher with four touchdowns on the ground. Neal also averages more than 162 yards a game passing and has 16 passing touchdowns on the season.
It’s a daunting task for St. Thomas, which has one of the top run defenses in the nation with less than 57 yards per game on the ground.
The Tommies should also be relatively healthy from a skill position standpoint after playing several reserves in their win over Augsburg. Sophomore quarterback Matt O’Connell did not play because of an injury, but Caruso said he’s back at practice this week and should be ready to go on Saturday.
Dan Ferrazzo missed the Augsburg game with an injury but should be back. The only season-long casualty is the Tommies’ other big play receiver, Dan Noehring, who was hurt in the Bethel victory.
It’s another game where if St. Thomas wants to run the ball on offense and stop the run on defense, it must win the battle at the line of scrimmage. The Tommies have risen to that occasion at every opportunity so far this season.
For the immediate future, this game is about St. Thomas winning its third MIAC title in Caruso’s fifth season. In a broader outlook, it’s one more test on the road to what they hope is a national title contending season, which is still a ways away.
Tune into WCCO Radio at about 1 p.m. Saturday for a live broadcast of the Tommies and the Cobbers, which is slated for a 1:10 p.m. kickoff. The game can also be heard live on wcco.com.