An inspired seventh-ranked St. Thomas offense gained 636 yards and secured a 43-9 victory over Wisconsin-River Falls Saturday, Sept. 8, at Palmer Field.
Two rushing touchdowns from sophomore running back Ryan Toney and 403 passing yards on 35-52 passing from sophomore quarterback Matt O’Connell led the way for the Tommies (2-0).
Coach Glenn Caruso felt O’Connell’s progression from week one to week two was “solid.”
“I love his vision downfield,” Caruso said. “He did a really great job stepping up in the pocket.”
- St. Thomas 43, Wis.-River Falls 9
- St. John’s 31, Wis.-Eau Claire 28.
- Concordia-Moor. 38, Buena Vista, Iowa 14.
- Gustavus 35, Simpson, Iowa. 26.
- St. Olaf 31, DePauw, Ind. 10.
- Bethel 21, Wartburg, Iowa 0.
- Bye: Carleton
Saturday, Sept. 15
- St. Thomas at St. John’s
- Augsburg at Gustavus
- Concordia-Moorhead at St. Olaf
- Hamline at Carleton
- Buena Vista at Bethel
O’Connell’s vision was on full display during the Tommies’ first possession when sophomore wide receiver Dan Ferrazzo made an acrobatic 33-yard touchdown catch. River Falls (0-2) senior safety Mike Cano initially tipped the ball before it landed perfectly in the hands of Ferrazzo for a 7-0 lead.
Ferrazzo finished the game with 10 receptions for 154 yards and a touchdown.
“He’s a tremendous ball catcher,” Caruso said about Ferrazzo. “He made some big ones (catches) today.”
With 2:47 left in the first quarter, Toney scampered into the end zone from 4 yards out, capping off a 10-play drive. The Tommies faked the extra point when Ferrazzo took the snap and ran into the end zone untouched, giving St. Thomas the 15-0 lead.
Midway through the second quarter, a 15-minute delay interrupted play when River Falls junior offensive lineman Ben Barrett was carted off with an injury on a stretcher and taken away by ambulance. His status is unknown.
River Falls senior kicker Chad Blair pushed a 45-yard field goal wide left on the most successful drive for the Falcons in the first half.
The Tommies’ subsequent drive saw a 29-yard pass to junior wide receiver Dan Noehring nullified by a penalty, which would have put St. Thomas into field goal position. St. Thomas took a 15-0 lead into the half.
In St. Thomas’ opening possession of the second half, O’Connell was intercepted by Falcon senior cornerback Alex Adams, giving River Falls great field position at the St. Thomas 29-yard line. But, the Tommie defense kept River Falls out of the end zone.
Senior cornerback Jack Gavin knew the Falcons passing attack was “strong.”
“They really did a lot of what we were preparing for with a lot of short passes,” Gavin said. “It’s still tough stuff to defend.”
The St. Thomas defense struggled in stopping freshman quarterback Ryan Kusilek, who attempted 73 passes and completed 39 for 327 yards.
“They did a good job today on offense,” Gavin said. “Their quarterback had a pretty good game.”
The Tommie defense shut down the Falcon rushing attack, holding River Falls to -9 yards rushing.
“We’re built to stop the run,” Caruso said. “We want to try and force teams to be one dimensional. We make a legitimate commitment to do it with numbers in the box.”
With 13:32 remaining in the third quarter, St. Thomas sophomore running back Aaron Terrell-Byrd took the ball around the right side and galloped 75-yards into the endzone. Junior kicker Griffin Snyder converted on the extra point, extending the lead to 22-0.
River Falls’ third possession of the second half saw a 10-play drive end in a 29-yard field goal, cutting the Tommie lead to 22-3.
Late in the third quarter, Toney capped off a nine-play, 45-yard drive with a 2-yard touchdown run, putting St. Thomas ahead 29-3.
The first play of the fourth quarter saw Gavin intercept Kusilek in the end zone, stopping any momentum the Falcons had left.
“They put a taller receiver on my side,” Gavin explained. “I turned my head at the right time, and the ball was right there.”
With 12:15 remaining in the game, Kusilek found senior wide receiver Nate Brandt darting through the Tommie secondary for the only Falcon touchdown. The extra point missed wide right, leaving the score 29-9.
O’Connell threw a touchdown pass to junior tight end Matt Allen and senior running back Garrett Engelhardt scored on a short run late in the fourth quarter, giving St. Thomas the 45-9 victory.
O’Connell completed passes to nine different receivers in the contest.
“Our guys did a great job getting open when they brought the pressure,” O’Connell said.
The two teams combined for 128 passes. Terrell-Byrd scored on a 75-yard run in the third quarter, leading the Tommie ground game with 118 yards.
Tommies must improve
Although pleased with the victory, Caruso believes there is much to improve heading into next week’s game at rival St. John’s.
“Offensively, we’re doing a horrible job the first two games, stopping our own drives,” Caruso explained.
St. Thomas had 10 penalties against River Falls.
“Everyone’s going to have penalties,” Caruso said. “But when you have a 10, 12 or 15-yarder that stops a drive, that hurts.”
After his second collegiate start, O’Connell thinks the Tommies “need to handle pressure better.”
The Tommies also had four turnovers: two interceptions and two fumbles.
St. Thomas travels to Collegeville, Minn., to battle rival St. John’s at 1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 15, at Clemens Stadium.
“Every week, we’re just trying to get better and better,” Gavin said. “They’re (St. John’s) definitely a different team, but we’ll shore things up.”
Ross Schreck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.