MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – The formula was pretty simple for the St. Thomas football team, ranked No. 10 nationally going into last Saturday’s MIAC opener, to beat rival St. John’s.
The Tommies would have to be able to limit the St. John’s running attack, led by the league’s leading rusher in Sam Sura, and run the ball with success themselves. The Tommies ran for 193 yards and two touchdowns on the day, but they could not stop Sura. The league’s top back had 36 carries for 210 yards and a touchdown to lead the Johnnies to a 24-14 win over the Tommies.
It was the second straight loss for St. Thomas against its rival after beating the Johnnies three straight times. St. Thomas also committed four turnovers in the loss, all in the fourth quarter on drives that could get them back in the game. Quarterback Matt O’Connell was pulled from the game in the third quarter in a coach’s decision, and John Gould threw two interceptions. St. Thomas also lost two fumbles in the second half and committed nine penalties that amounted to 80 yards. One of Gould’s passes was tipped at the line of scrimmage and intercepted, and other was a Hail Mary near the end of regulation.
Jack Kaiser led the Tommies with 74 yards on 10 carries and a touchdown, which got St. Thomas within 21-14 in the third quarter. Brenton Braddock scored the other St. Thomas touchdown of the day from three yards out that tied the game 7-7 in the first quarter.
It was probably one of the most disappointing games in Glenn Caruso’s six-plus seasons as the leader of the Tommies’ program. St. Thomas dropped to No. 24 in the national rankings as a result. Their postseason is also now in jeopardy as they still face tough league games against Bethel, the consensus MIAC favorite, Ausgburg, Concordia and Gustavus. Last year, losses to the Johnnies and Bethel cost the Tommies a chance at the NCAA Playoffs a year after getting to the national title game.
St. John’s quarterback Nick Martin passed for 162 yards and two touchdowns on the day in addition to Sura’s efforts. His second touchdown of the day went for 26 yards to give the Johnnies a 21-7 lead midway through the third quarter. It left a majority of the St. Thomas fans in attendance deflated. It was a day where Gary Fasching’s squad was ready for everything it would face from St. Thomas on either side of the ball. That’s despite the Tommies outgaining St. John’s 440-379 on the day. Turnovers ultimately doomed St. Thomas in the rivalry game.
St. Thomas (2-1,0-1) looks to bounce back this week as it travels to Northfield to face St. Olaf in its second MIAC game of the year. The Oles are 0-4 on the season and went just 1-9 last year. Craig Stern is in his second year as head coach after being St. Olaf’s recruiting coordinator and defensive backs coach.
The Oles are 0-2 in the MIAC and have been outscored by a combined 92-14 in league play. They were shut out by Bethel in the league opener, 42-0.
St. Olaf averages about 234 yards of total offense per game, 167 through the air. Quarterback Nate Penz is throwing for about 164 yards per game and has three passing touchdowns. J.J. Strand and Bryan Aviles combine to average about 54 yards per game rushing.
Defensively, the Oles are allowing about 420 yards of total offense per game,233 rushing yards and 32 points. Coleman Foley leads St. Olaf with 29 tackles and one sack on the season. Seamus Walsh has 27 tackles, with three for a loss.
For St. Thomas, it’s about getting back on track in all the phases of football against St. Olaf before it hosts Augsburg for homecoming. The Tommies can’t afford, however, to look ahead. The program learned last year in their playoff hopes that any slip-up can be costly.
The bottom line is that it’s still early in the season and there’s plenty of time to bounce back. But the stakes are higher and there’s more at stake with each week and every snap.
Tune into WCCO Radio at about 1 p.m. Saturday as Dave Lee will have the play-by-play and Eric Nelson will provide color commentary from Manitou Field in Northfield.