By Jeff Wald

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – The St. Thomas football team is off to a 2-0 start after a comeback win at UW-Eau Claire and a convincing win over UW-River Falls last week in its home opener.

Now the MIAC season gets started this week, and things are probably getting a lot more intense this week at practice for the No. 6-ranked Tommies. Opening the conference season doesn’t get much better than facing arguably your biggest rival, and that’s exactly the case for St. Thomas this week.

The Tommies will travel to Collegeville and take on St. John’s at 1 p.m. Saturday at Clemens Stadium, one of the all-time great atmospheres for Division III football. And for a change, the Tommies have a winning streak against the Johnnies.

St. Thomas won in overtime at St. John’s two years ago after a missed extra point. Last year, the Tommies were completely dominant in a 63-7 win over the Johnnies. The teams downplay rivalry weeks like this, saying it’s no different than any other game. The reality is it’s one of the biggest games of the year for St. Thomas, along with the Tommies’ homecoming tilt against Bethel in mid-October.

St. John’s has fairly lopsided numbers in the overall series, which it leads 49-30-1. The Johnnies are also 43-16 during John Gagliardi’s tenure as head coach. But the tide has changed, and Glenn Caruso is leading it. The Tommies have won 40 of their last 44 games, 26 straight regular season games and 10 straight conference road games.

More than 16,000 people flocked to Clemens Stadium for the match-up two years ago, and you can expect a similar number this weekend.

From a statistics standpoint, the Tommies have improved notably from their first to second game. St. Thomas collected more than 600 yards of total offense, including 403 yards and two scores from Matt O’Connell through the air, in a 43-9 win over River Falls. Dan Ferrazzo has emerged as the go-to receiver as he had 10 catches for 148 yards and a touchdown. Aaron Terrell-Byrd and Ryan Toney are the go-to running backs. Terrell-Byrd had 125 yards and a touchdown last week, and Toney had two rushing TDs in the win.

St. John’s is no slouch on offense either. In two wins this year, the Johnnies are averaging 41.5 points per game. They’re led by quarterback Connor Bruns, who is completing 70.5 percent of his passes for 459 yards and three touchdowns. The Johnnies always feature depth in their run game, and this year isn’t any different. Steven Johnson, a prep star at Mahtomedi, leads the Johnnies with 105 yards and two touchdowns. Nick Schneider is also a running threat.

The Johnnies also have four receivers with at least one touchdown.

On defense, they’re led by Taylor Dammermann, who has 14 tackles in two games. Dylan Graves has 13 tackles in two games.

It’ll be a great day for football, and it should be a great match-up between two teams that have a great, but respectful rivalry. Something tells me the Johnnies will remember St. Thomas celebrating on their field two years ago. I expect it to go down to the wire, and WCCO Radio 830 AM will have all the action covered with Dave Lee on the play-by-play and Eric Nelson providing color commentary.


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