Junior running back Ben Wartman scores one of his three touchdowns against St. Olaf Sept. 19. (Josh Kleven/TommieMedia)
Coming off a win over St. Olaf in the MIAC opener, the Tommie football team looks to improve to 3-0 on the season as St. Thomas travels across town to visit the Hamline Pipers (1-1).
The Tommies found success against the Pipers in 2008, pulling out a narrow 24-21 victory. Running back Ben Wartman led the charge for the Tommies, piling up 140 yards on the ground with a touchdown. Receiver Fritz Waldvogel was also solid, hauling in five catches for 74 yards including an 18-yard touchdown rush in the first quarter to break a scoreless tie.
The Tommie defense did allow quarterback James Leary to pass for 251 yards and three touchdowns, despite sacks from Tony Danna, Wyatt Delgado and Tommy Becker. Although Leary graduated, his favorite receiver from last year’s game returns.
Sean Lewis caught six passes for 138 yards and a touchdown against the Tommies. Despite a weak pass defense against Hamline last season, the Tommies were able to limit the Pipers to 29 yards rushing.
Hamline finished last in the MIAC last year with a record of 0-8 (2-8 overall) and were picked to finish last in this season’s preseason poll. Despite early doubts, the Pipers have been sharp in its first two games, beating Martin Luther 34-0, and falling in overtime to MIAC foe Gustavus.
“Any team can win on any day under the right circumstances,” said St. Thomas junior defensive back Matt Griswold. “But if we play our game, Tommie style, we won’t have any worries about playing at Hamline.”
Hamline’s rushing defense has been suspect, allowing opponents to average 143 yards per game on the ground. On the contrary, the Pipers’ pass defense has limited opponents to under 90 yards per game. Senior linebacker Mike Labore anchors the Piper defense, recording two of the team’s six sacks through the first two games. Labore was named All-MIAC as a junior, finishing third on the team in tackles (59) and third in sacks (3). Last year, Labore also had seven tackles for losses, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
Labore is joined at linebacker by junior Justin Bain, and senior Brady Lorenzen, one of the Pipers’ top defenders in ’08 at the safety position. Lorenzen makes the switch from safety to linebacker after leading the Pipers with three interceptions last season.
The defensive line stars sophomore Andrew Schlicting, who led the Pipers in 2008 with four-and-a-half sacks. Senior Dante Gunther returns with sophomore Lucas Jones in the defensive backfield. Jones and Gunther both had two interceptions last year, and Gunther has the Pipers’ only pick this season.
On offense, sophomore Adam Meyer has been inserted at quarterback, excelling in his first two starts. He has completed more than a third of his passes, racking up 443 yards and four touchdowns.
“We will be putting a lot of pressure on Meyer,” Griswold said. “That will help our secondary a lot.”
Meyer has been eased into his new starting role by a strong offensive line, led by All-MIAC tackle Derall King and guard Alex Garza.
Meyer will be throwing to Lewis, sophomore Ben Johnson and junior Alex House. House has been Meyer’s favorite target this season, hauling in 12 catches for 147 yards and a touchdown.
In the backfield, sophomore Sean Traynor has been exceptional, averaging 10 yards per carry and scoring two touchdowns. Former St. Thomas student Blake Cook has made an instant impact as well, averaging four yards per carry with a touchdown.
“This year they will be playing a much different UST football team,” said Griswold. “There is no comparison. If they think we’re the same as last year, they will be sorely mistaken come Saturday.”
Danny Grimmer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org