(NORTHFIELD–Minn.) Running back Jack Kaiser’s three rushing touchdowns led the No. 16-ranked St. Thomas football team to a 45-22 victory over St. Olaf College Saturday in a rainy, final regular-season game at Manitou Field.
The Tommies’ (8-2 overall, 6-2 MIAC) win, paired with St. John’s 28-7 loss to Bethel, helped St. Thomas stay in the hunt for the post-season. Kaiser, who rushed for 74 yards, said after getting off to a slow start, he was proud of the way his team adjusted in the second half.
“I think we moved the ball pretty well,” Kaiser said. “We didn’t have many turnovers, so that was a big part of that, and also our (offensive) line and our fullbacks and everyone just blocking well.”
Despite five penalties on the first possession of the game, kicker Paul Graupner chipped in a 29-yard field goal to put the Tommies on the board 3-0.
St. Thomas controlled the ball with more than 37 minutes of possession, compared to St. Olaf’s (1-9 overall, 0-8 MIAC) 19 minutes. Defensive lineman Riley Dombek said even though the weather conditions weren’t ideal, it was a fun game to play in.
“This was a surreal experience in terms of football with the mud and everything,” Dombek said. “It was hard to get your footing at first, but once you kind of figured it out, you knew what you could do and couldn’t do.”
With 13:07 remaining in the second quarter, running back Nick Waldvogel found an open hole for a 5-yard touchdown run to give the Tommies a 10-0 lead. On the next Tommie possession, Kaiser broke free for a 7-yard touchdown run to give St. Thomas a 17-0 lead with 9:57 left in the second quarter. Coach Glenn Caruso said the offense got off to a pretty good start.
“I felt pretty comfortable, but then (St. Olaf) came roaring back with a couple touchdowns, and it just didn’t feel as good when they started hitting those deep balls,” Caruso said.
St. Olaf quarterback Nate Penz threw two touchdowns midway through the second quarter; the first being wide receiver Jake Schmiesing’s 81-yard touchdown, followed by wide receiver Stephen Asp’s 5-yard touchdown catch to shorten the Oles’ deficit to 24-15.
The chemistry between Penz and his receivers was apparent all day with their consistent timing on short patterns, and the Oles continuously looked to connect on the deep ball—something Caruso said they did well Saturday.
“There were some really nice timing routes; they knew what they were doing,” Caruso said. “They hit the out routes and really had our (defensive backs) in the backpedal when the ball was out, and their guy was there right on time.”
In between St. Olaf’s two trips to the end zone, quarterback Alex Fenske connected with wide receiver Jack Gilliland on a diving, 16-yard touchdown catch in the corner of the end zone with 5:07 left in the second quarter.
The Tommies have held teams well defensively in the first half this season, but allowed the Oles 15 first-half points Saturday and a season-high 20 last week against Concordia. Dombek said the team wasn’t happy with the first half performance.
“We talked about in the locker room that we had to come out better in the second half— just for our seniors and for the team in general,” Dombek said. “Whether we go to the playoffs or not, we wanted to finish it off with a good second half, and I think we did very well in the second half as opposed to the first half.”
After two more Kaiser rushing touchdowns and a Fenske touchdown pass to wide receiver Pete Fitzsimmons in the second half, the Tommies took a 45-15 lead with 10:47 remaining in the game.
St. Thomas piled up 532 yards offensively, compared to St. Olaf’s 311. Fenske completed 27 of 39 passes for 353 yards and two touchdowns. Caruso said he was happy with how the Tommies threw the ball Saturday.
“You’d think on a muddy day like this, you might actually run more. We went the other direction in passing a bit more,” Caruso said. “We thought our redirection stuff would be a little bit better off, and it worked for us.”
St. Olaf scored its only points of the second half on a 24-yard touchdown pass from Penz to wide receiver Peter Rogotzke with 3:09 left in the game, making the score 45-22.
St. Thomas will find out its playoff fate during the NCAA Division III selection show at 5 p.m. Sunday.
“I think all emotions will be high, especially for the seniors,” Kaiser said. “Right now, they don’t know if they’re ever going to play again, and obviously we got their backs; hopefully the best things come out of it.”
Kyle Jonas can be reached at email@example.com.