Reporting Jeff Wald
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – I’ve never been a huge fan of the “what might have been” scenario, especially when it comes to sports and championships.
I’ve always viewed that as pretty cut and dry. If you did enough, you’ll win a championship. If you didn’t, you won’t. My phone rang late last week and it was my father letting me know that the St. Thomas/Mount Union Division III national title game from last December, the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl, was being rebroadcast on ESPNU.
My first thought was “big deal.” I remember watching the game and knew that Mount Union flexed its muscle in a 28-10 victory. But it was actually a much closer game than the score would indicate.
Normally when you watch a sporting event, it’s live and you’re very much in the moment. You don’t stop to think “well if this would’ve happened, if we make this play or get that break” then the outcome might be different. The joy, or in this case anguish, of watching a championship game over is that it allows you to relive it and wonder what might have been if a few things had changed.
For starters, Mount Union marched right down the field and scored on its opening possession. That was their tone-setting drive, and St. Thomas was hoping to have an answer.
On the Tommies’ second offensive possession they had to punt, but Garrett Maloney had his punt blocked. The Raiders recovered it and rumbled into the end zone for a 14-0 lead. St. Thomas got on the board in the first half with some trickery when Dan Ferrazzo, the holder for field goals, scored on a fake field goal to cut the deficit in half at 14-7.
One of the key plays in the game happened in the second quarter. With St. Thomas deep in Mount Union territory. O’Connell had Matt Miskiewicz open for what looked like a game-tying touchdown, but the receiver had the ball slip through his hands. St. Thomas ended up turning the ball over on downs, and it was a play that, if converted, either ties the game 14-14 or puts the Tommies in a goal line situation.
St. Thomas got a field goal late in the third quarter to get within 14-10 and was one defensive stop away from taking all the momentum. That defensive stop never happened as Mount Union put together a pair of long scoring drives to lead 28-10 and put the game away.
The St. Thomas defense couldn’t get off the field on third down in the second half and make a big stop when it was needed. Instead, Mount Union did what championship teams do: The Raiders executed, made plays and put their opponent away when they had to.
But if a few plays turn out differently, there’s no telling if the ending of that national title game might have been different. Some might say Mount Union was due. After all, they had appeared in eight straight national title games, but lost the last three before this title win.
St. Thomas, on the other hand, is in the process of building a program that contends for a national title every year. It was the program’s first national title game appearance in their fourth straight year in the postseason.
The Tommies had 12 seniors graduate, but return 15 of 22 starters to fall camp this year. Coach Glenn Caruso, who collected more honors in the offseason, said earlier in the summer he believes his incoming recruiting class is the best he’s had since being hired.
He enters his sixth season with a 57-7 record, which includes 30 straight regular season wins and three straight MIAC titles. This year’s senior class for St. Thomas enters the 2013 season with a 39-3 record.
To say this team has potential is an understatement. Living up to the standard they’ve set and doing it every year is now the challenge. It’s one Caruso and his program not only accepts, but embraces.