Reporting Jeff Wald
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – The St. Thomas football team got a taste of what it takes to be a national champion after losing to UW-Whitewater 20-0 last year in the NCAA Semifinals.
The Warhawks won the Division III national title last year, but failed to make it back to the playoffs this season so there will be a new national champion. If St. Thomas has anything to say about it, the Tommies hope to be hoisting that trophy in mid-December.
That journey starts Saturday for No. 3-ranked St. Thomas as it hosts St. Norbert College (Wis.) in the first round of the NCAA Playoffs. The Tommies received one of four No. 1 seeds in the 32-team playoff bracket, meaning they’ll have home field advantage throughout the playoffs until the semifinals, which are held in Salem, Va.
The Tommies beat St. Olaf 35-12 on Saturday to complete a 10-0 regular season. It’s their third straight undefeated regular season, and with that, their third straight MIAC title under Glenn Caruso. This will be their fourth NCAA Playoffs appearance in five seasons.
St. Thomas and St. Norbert are somewhat familiar opponents having played each of the last two seasons. Two years ago, the Tommies beat the Green Knights 40-7. Last year, St. Thomas won in Wisconsin 20-7.
St. Norbert earned a bid into the Division III playoffs by virtue of tying for the Midwest Conference title with an 8-2 record. The Green Knights should pose a good challenge for the Tommies. On offense, they average about 320 total yards per game, including 143 on the ground. St. Thomas will have its hands full on defense as it allows an average of about half that.
Austin Williams and Brad Boockmeier combine to average about 122 of the those yards on the ground and have combined for 15 touchdowns. Quarterback James Tringali has more than 1,600 passing yards on the season and 15 touchdowns. His favorite target is Joe Green, who has 49 catches for 681 yards and eight touchdowns on the season.
On defense, Anthony Parker leads the unit in the secondary with a team-high 56 tackles. The Green Knights have 21 sacks on the season and 14 interceptions in 10 games.
The Tommies are averaging 477 yards of total offense per game, with about 250 yards a game coming on the ground. Brenton Braddock averages 81 yards per game to lead St. Thomas, but quarterback Matt O’Connell actually leads the team with more total rushing yards. O’Connell, in his first full season as a starter, is 9-0 in his career and has 17 passing touchdowns this season.
O’Connell’s top receivers are Dan Ferrazzo and Logan Marks, who have combined for nine touchdowns on the season. Dan Noehring was another top threat before suffering a season-ending injury.
Playoff games are usually won by not turning the ball over, winning the battle at the line of scrimmage and making big plays. St. Thomas is virtually unbeatable at home, and the Tommies are seasoned in the playoffs.
St. Norbert poses quite the challenge, but the Tommies will be ready so it should be a great match-up.
Note that the start time is moved up an hour from normal. Kickoff is slated for around noon at O’Shaughnessy Stadium, and WCCO Radio will have the broadcast live with Dave Lee on the play-by-play and Eric Nelson providing color commentary.