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In a game expected to be a thriller, running back Brenton Braddock’s four touchdowns ignited the St. Thomas football team to a 47-7 blowout against Hobart (N.Y) in an NCAA quarterfinal Saturday at O’Shaughnessy Stadium.
The game featured two undefeated teams with vastly different pedigrees playing a very similar style. Hobart (12-1) was making its first-ever appearance in the national quarterfinals; St. Thomas (13-0), its fourth consecutive.
On this Saturday though, the Tommies used their playoff experience from years past, coupled with a fast start, to pull away from the Statesmen.
“I don’t think there were a lot of people in the nation that thought we’d be in this position,” coach Glenn Caruso said. “Fortunately for us, our kids don’t really care what people think.”
In this game, the Tommies started fast, something that has not happened in either of its first two playoff games. Following a three-and-out by the Statesmen, defensive end Wolfgang Dvorak bursted through the Hobart line and blocked punter Josh Neuss’ kick early in the first quarter with cornerback Kyle Coyne recovering at the Hobart 5-yard line.
“It speaks to the youth of this team when as a freshman (Dvorak) can make a big time play like that,” Caruso said. “It sparked us.”
Two plays later, Braddock found the end zone from 4 yards out. While set up for the extra point attempt, holder Dan Ferrazzo took the snap and scooted into the end zone for the two-point conversion, giving St. Thomas an early 8-0 lead.
Braddock was not done, burrowing his way into the end zone on the next possession, putting the Tommies up 15-0 just six minutes into the game.
This marked the first time all season the Statesmen trailed by more than two touchdowns.
Hobart answered on a season-long 66-yard touchdown run by running back Steven Webb, slicing the Tommie lead to 15-7 midway through the first quarter. This is as close as the Statesmen would get the rest of the way.
The St. Thomas offense continued its strong play in the second quarter, scoring 17 points on a 5-yard Braddock touchdown run, a season-long 42-yard field goal by kicker Paul Graupner and a 2-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Matt O’Connell to tight end Matt Allen with 9.7 seconds left in the half. St. Thomas has outscored opponents 58-0 in second quarters this postseason.
St. Thomas dominated all three phases of the game in the first half, which showed on the scoreboard as it led 32-7 at halftime.
Hobart allowed 30 first-half points for the first time since 2001.
Caruso said he attributed the strong start to the team’s “buzz” in the locker room prior to kickoff.
“It was palpable,” Caruso said. “You know something good was about to happen.”
The Tommie defense continued its staunch play, holding the potent Hobart offense to 118 yards in the first half (45 passing, 73 rushing) while holding the Statesmen to only three first downs.
“Coming into this game, we knew they were a great running team,” linebacker Mike Valesano said. “If you try to run, we’re going to try to stop you and force you to pass; that’s what we did today.”
Tommies control second half
St. Thomas picked up where it left off in the first half, as Braddock punched in from 1 yard out on the first drive of the second half. Graupner’s extra point was blocked but alertly picked up by Ferrazzo as he scampered into the end zone, giving the Tommies a 40-7 lead.
Ferrazzo, who finished with six receptions for 103 yards and two successful two-point conversions, said the offensive game plan was no different from any other Saturday this year.
“Every week, we try to pound the ball (on the ground),” Ferrazzo said. “We’ll take some deep shots if available.”
On his two-point conversion: “I just scooped it up and there was a lot of green in front of me,” Ferrazzo said.
Braddock, who finished with 94 yards and four touchdowns, went over 1,000 yards for the season in the third quarter. Braddock said controlling the line of scrimmage was key in Saturday’s victory.
“As we continued to score, they started to tire on us at the line scrimmage,” Braddock said on his performance. “Our offensive line kept pounding away at (Hobart) and continued to wear them down.”
Braddock would be relieved by running back Jack Kaiser at the start of the fourth quarter. Kaiser would find the end zone on a 1-yard touchdown run midway through the quarter, cementing the Tommies’ 47-7 victory.
Valesano, a fifth-year senior, said he thought the strong foundation to which the program is built upon has led to St. Thomas’ continued success.
“As (Caruso’s) first recruiting class, we were really trying to let these young guys know how (Caruso) wanted this program ran,” Valesano said. “Doing things the right way, doing the little things; it’s really caught fire as everyone is buying into the program.”
O’Connell, who finished 14-of-28 for 238 yards, one touchdown and one interception, was battling the flu last night.
“(O’Connell) didn’t get any sleep last night,” Caruso said. “He was in our offices at 8 a.m. and said, ‘Coach, I can’t keep anything down, but I’m still playing.’”
The Tommie defense held the Statesmen to 294 yards, 128 yards below their season average. Hobart went 2-of-13 on third downs and threw three interceptions.
The St. Thomas offense finished its productive day with 463 yards (215 rushing, 248 passing).
With the experience of playing in the national semifinals last year, Caruso said he will prepare for the upcoming Saturday “differently.”
“That’s what experience affords us,” Caruso said. “It gives us a pretty good benchmark if we want to play at the level we need to do. Right now, our main focus is on keeping this family together as long as we possibly can.”
St. Thomas battles Wisconsin-Oshkosh at 2 p.m. Dec. 8 at home. The winner will advance to the national championship.
Ross Schreck can be reached at email@example.com.