COLLEGEVILLE, Minn. — Three touchdowns from sophomore running back Ryan Toney and two TD passes from quarterback Matt O’Connell propelled sixth-ranked St. Thomas to a 43-21 victory over archrival St. John’s in Collegeville Saturday.
The Tommies’ (3-0 overall, 1-0 MIAC) winning total was the third-highest ever against the Johnnies (2-1, 0-1). The win also was the Tommies’ third in a row in the series, the first time it has won three consecutive against St. John’s since 1954-1957 seasons.
With 14,286 in the crowd, the attendance was the third-largest in the 111-year history of the Tommie-Johnnie rivalry, on a perfect fall afternoon. Both student sections, placed directly next to one another, chanted “UST” and “SJU” back and forth throughout the entire contest.
Coach Glenn Caruso was “ridiculously excited” about the win.
“For us to come out of there playing a B- game and still have a dominant win, that feels great,” Caruso said. “When you can win ugly, on someone’s home field, that’s a pretty good feeling.”
O’Connell threw TD passes to receiver Dan Noehring and tight end Logan Marks. Toney scored on runs of 1, 5 and 7 yards as the Tommies broke open a tight game in the second half.
O’Connell hit Noehring for a 33-yard touchdown in the left corner of the end zone on the Tommies’ first offensive play of the day.
“We had the right personnel in the game at the time,” St. Thomas wide receivers coach Travis Walch said. “Matt had plenty of time and put it right on (Noehring).”
The Johnnies scored two unanswered TDs to grab a 14-7 lead. At the 5:29 mark, St. John’s junior quarterback Connor Bruns hit senior wide receiver Max Forster for a 31-yard touchdown, and Bruns 1-yard scamper off right tackle capped a 12-play, 82-yard drive.
St. Thomas regained the lead for good by finishing an 11-play, 80-yard scoring drive on Toney’s 1-yard run and Ferrazzo’s successful 2-point conversion, giving the Tommies a 15-14 lead.
After a St. John’s stalled possession, the Tommies ran a no-huddle drive with 2:02 remaining in the second quarter, capped off by an 8-yard touchdown pass from O’Connell to Marks with 1.7 seconds remaining in the half, giving St. Thomas a 22-14 lead into the break.
Walch thought the Tommie offensive preparation helped exploit the Johnnie defense.
“We just talked all week about finishing plays,” Walch said. “The big focus we had all week was to put ourselves in 2nd and 5’s and have less pressure on our offensive line and our quarterback.”
Tommies dominate 2nd half
In the Johnnies’ first possession of the second half, Bruns was intercepted by junior linebacker Steve Dejewski, who returned the ball to the 2-yard line. It was the first Johnnie turnover of the season.
Two plays later, Toney ran into the end zone for his second touchdown, extending the Tommie lead to 29-14 with 8:21 remaining in the third quarter.
On the Tommies’ next possession, they put together an eight-play scoring drive that finished with Toney running for his third touchdown, blowing the game open at 36-14 with 2:50 left in the third quarter.
Toney, who filled in for injured sophomore running back Aaron Terrel-Byrd, thought the game plan for the week was key to his three-TD performance.
“Coach Caruso always works on our work ethic,” Toney explained. “Our work ethic is always going to push us through no matter what.”
Caruso was “very impressed” with Toney’s performance at tailback.
“Ryan (Toney) is a guy that would be a starter on a lot of other teams,” Caruso said. “It just speaks to the depth of this team.”
After O’Connell’s third interception of the day gave St. John’s possession on the Tommie 17-yard line, Bruns connected with senior tight end Taylor Freetly for a diving touchdown in the back of the end zone, leaving the score at 36-21 heading into the fourth quarter.
The St. Thomas defense stepped up again as senior safety Tyler Erstad intercepted Bruns at the Tommie 15, rumbling down the sideline 84 yards to the 1-yard line midway through the fourth quarter. On the next play junior fullback Willie Schneider stormed in, sealing the St. Thomas lead for good at 43-21.
Senior cornerback Chinni Oji, who had an interception in the game, was excited to beat the Johnnies.
“To be 3-1 against them during my years here, it’s a great feeling,” Oji explained. “They’re a good team and they play hard so that makes it a big win for all of us.”
Oji thought the defense did not play its best in the first half.
“I think at first we were a little over-amped,” Oji said. “After we got settled in and we were fine.”
The Tommies finished with 405 total yards to St. John’s 340 yards. St. Thomas out-rushed St. John’s 187-24, while going a perfect five-for-five in the red zone.
With the win, the Tommies head into their bye week undefeated, something Caruso feels is “extremely important.”
“We wanted to try to do two things heading into the bye week,” Caruso said. “We need to prioritize our mistakes and get fresh. We can’t ask anymore than to go into it 3-0.”
St. Thomas next travels to Carleton on Sept. 29 in Northfield, Minn.
Ross Schreck can be reached at email@example.com.