Reporting Jeff Wald
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Glenn Caruso was a mix of exuberant and emotional after the St. Thomas football team cruised to a 47-7 win over No. 7-ranked Hobart in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Division III Playoffs on Saturday.
Quite frankly, I don’t blame him. The Tommies, ranked No. 3 nationally, are back in the semifinals for the second straight year. But there were plenty of doubters coming into the season after St. Thomas graduated a majority of its skill-position players.
Add to that a slew of injuries to key players this season and the Tommies had every reason not to have success this year. They’ve had just six players start every game this season and have had 108 players injured for at least a week.
Yet they’re 13-0 and a win over UW-Oshkosh away from playing for a national championship.
“We’re ridiculously pumped up. In a year that has been as tumultuous as this one, I don’t think there’s a lot of people in the nation that would’ve thought our kids would be in this position,” Caruso said. “Fortunately our kids thought they were capable of this and don’t really care what other people think.”
The Tommies scored 15 points in the first six minutes of the game and were ignited defensively when Wolfgang Dvorak blocked a Hobart punt, giving St. Thomas the ball at the Hobart 4-yard line. Brenton Braddock scored two plays later to give the Tommies an early 8-0 lead.
After another Hobart punt, Braddock scored from 4 yards out to give St. Thomas a 15-0 lead.
“Wolfgang Dvorak, if that’s not a great name I don’t know what is. He’s a guy who is ridiculously talented,” Caruso said. “He never traveled for a single game this year until the playoffs when we trimmed our roster. But when he can step up and make a play like that it makes you pretty happy.”
Hobart’s only score and almost half of its total offense on the day came on a 66-yard run to cut the St. Thomas lead to 15-7 with 7:02 left in the opening quarter. St. Thomas gave up only 140 yards in total offense on the day and intercepted Nick Strang three times. The Tommies also had eight tackles for a loss, including two sacks.
The Tommies went on to score 32 unanswered points to run away with the victory. That included two more Braddock touchdowns and a passing touchdown from Matt O’Connell to Matt Allen.
Braddock finished with 23 carries for 95 yards and the four touchdowns. O’Connell, who was battling the flu, passed for 238 yards and a touchdown in arguably the most complete effort of the year for St. Thomas.
“The last time we played a game like this was probably against Bethel. I just really believe at the end of the day it was their minds and hearts that won this game,” Caruso said. “The buzz in the locker room before the game was palpable. You knew something great was going to happen.”
St. Thomas also got some help to stay at home for one more game. UW-Oshkosh came back in surprising fashion to win at Linfield 31-24 in overtime. The Tommies will host No. 5-ranked Oshkosh at 2 p.m. Saturday at O’Shaughnessy Stadium with a trip to the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl on the line. In the other semifinal, Mount Union will face Mary Hardin-Baylor in the other semifinal.
The Tommies faced UW-Whitewater in the semifinals last year, losing 20-0 to the eventual national champions. The WCCO Tommies Blog will preview the Oshkosh match-up later this week.