MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – The St. Thomas football team spent most of its season ranked No. 3 in the nation, but the Tommies found out Saturday just how much better they have to get to go to the top of Division III.
The Tommies all but dominated three opponents on the way to a semifinal match-up with UW-Whitewater, the two-time defending national champions and winners of 43 straight games. Saturday, St. Thomas was shut out offensively and managed only 214 yards of total offense in a 20-0 loss at Whitewater, ending their season 13-1 and one game short of the national title game.
UW-Whitewater advances to play Mount Union in the Division III national title game Friday night. The two teams have faced each other in the national championship seven straight years.
For the Tommies, another successful season ends just a little shy of what they wanted, but it highlights where the program is headed compared to where it was when Glenn Caruso started four seasons ago. In Saturday’s game, Colin Tobin, who had been a force in three playoff victories, managed 82 yards on 17 carries but didn’t score. All-American wide receiver Fritz Waldvogel had eight catches for 45 yards, but never made the big play and had his longest catch go for nine yards.
Whitewater drove the ball at will down the field on the way to 17 first-half points. The Warhawks ran for 173 yards and had 352 yards of total offense, but it was their defense that was the story of the game. Dakota Tracy was sacked one time but hurried several others and had trouble finding open receivers throughout the game. He finished with 11 completions for only 64 yards.
As disappointed as the Tommies are to end their season one game short of a national title bid, there’s a much larger picture in store for the program. St. Thomas rolled to a MIAC title this year, its second straight, in a season that included a 63-7 rout of rival St. John’s.
St. Thomas rolled to victories in three home playoff games by a combined 134-22. Its defense, until playing Whitewater, was second in the nation against the run and fourth in the nation in total offense allowed.
So what’s next for the Tommies? Well, they lose Tracy, Colin Tobin, Waldvogel and Ricky Margarit to graduation among their offensive playmakers. It means tight end Logan Marx receiver Dan Noehring will have to step up next year. The good news at quarterback: They had enough lopsided wins this year that Matt O’Connell saw plenty of time behind center in games.
On defense, they lose leaders in Tony Danna at linebacker and Danny Kane on the defensive line. They also graduate Willy Baregi at linebacker. They’ll bring back two of their top players in the secondary in Chinni Oji and Tyler Erstad.
All in all, the Tommies have a bright future. The group of Tracy, Tobin, Waldvogel, Margarit, Baregi, Kane, and Danna led the charge in rebuilding the St. Thomas football program. Now it’s up to the returning players to keep the program moving forward.