When wide receiver Dan Ferrazzo and his St. Thomas football teammates step onto Palmer Field at noon Saturday to battle St. Norbert (Wis.), the start of its “second season” will be at hand.
“In this format, it’s one and done,” Ferrazzo said. “The loser goes home and the winner advances. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
The Tommies (10-0) face co-Midwest Conference champion Green Knights (8-2) for the third consecutive season, but it’s the first meeting in postseason play. The two previous games were season openers in 2010 and 2011, with St. Thomas winning both games, outscoring St. Norbert 60-14 in the process.
Quarterback Matt O'Connell and the young first-team Tommie offense prepare for St. Norbert against the scout team Tuesday. O'Connell is 9-0 as a starter. (Ross Schreck/TommieMedia)
Coach Glenn Caruso said he thinks this St. Norbert team is “pretty similar” to last year’s.
“They have a lot of the same starters on both sides of the ball,” Caruso said. “They’re very good at what they do and (are) very confident in their schemes.”
Both teams bring impressive win streaks into Saturday’s clash. St. Norbert won its fifth-straight match last Saturday, outscoring opponents 181-52 during that span. The team had to play well, as it was seemingly out of the playoff picture until last weekend’s victory over conference co-champion Lake Forest. The win gave the Green Knights the tiebreaker, sending them into the playoffs for the ninth time in 14 seasons.
Quarterback James Tringali leads the Green Knight offense with 1,682 passing yards and 15 touchdowns. Running back Austin Williams also posts 797 rushing yards and nine touchdowns.
St. Norbert’s offense appears balanced, averaging 143.3 rushing yards and 176.8 passing yards per contest.
Caruso said he thinks the goal to stopping the Green Knight offense is to halt the run game.
“We talk about stopping the run week after week,” Caruso said. “This week’s no different.”
The Tommies are 10-0 in the regular season for the third consecutive year, a feat never before accomplished in the MIAC. St. Thomas also has a 13-game home win streak on the line.
Most of the Tommie starters on offense will make their collegiate playoff debuts Saturday. Ferrazzo said he thinks preparation for this game is no different from any other.
“The postseason atmosphere will absolutely be different,” Ferrazzo said. “The way in which we handle our business will not be.”
Although Caruso is sending a young offensive unit onto the field Saturday, he said he isn’t worried.
“We’re playing with two freshmen running backs, a sophomore quarterback, six freshmen wide receivers (behind sophomore Ferrazzo) and two freshmen offensive linemen,” Caruso said. “We received a number one seed and we’re arguably the youngest team in the country.”
Defensively, the Green Knights boast a strong secondary; defensive back Anthony Parker leads the team with 56 tackles. St. Norbert allows only 107.5 yards per game on the ground but gives up 192.3 yards passing. The Green Knights secondary has intercepted 14 passes this season.
St. Norbert has only allowed five touchdowns in its last five games, something Caruso said is “pretty impressive.”
Ferrazzo said he thinks the Green Knight secondary has looked capable on film.
“They have some good athletes in their secondary that fly to the ball,” Ferrazzo said. “Whenever you mix those two qualities together, secondaries can wreak havoc if you let them.”
St. Thomas enters Saturday’s game with the 13th-best total defense in the country.
Linebacker Mike Valesano, who missed the playoffs last year due to injury, said he thinks playing in front of the Tommie faithful is a definite advantage in the postseason.
“It’s always nice to play at home,” Valesano said. “We are very comfortable here.”
Ross Schreck can be reached at email@example.com.