NORTHFIELD, Minn. — Despite securing sole possession of the MIAC title with a 97-0 blowout of St. Olaf Saturday, the St. Thomas football team has to wait until Sunday to figure out where its road to the Stagg Bowl begins.
The Tommies entered the weekend ranked No. 4 in the nation, according to the American Football Coaches Association poll. The team was ranked No. 3 in the West Region by D3 Football, the unofficial site dedicated to covering Division III football, behind Wisconsin-Oshkosh and Wartburg College (Iowa).
“If we can get to the point where we are playing consistently, it doesn’t matter (where we are ranked),” coach Glenn Caruso said. “Although we don’t expect that level of (statistical) success through the playoffs, we have a good foundation from which to build.”
- St. John’s 10, Concordia 3
- Bethel 54, Hamline 14
- Gustavus 52, Carleton 0
- St. Thomas 97, St. Olaf 0
- END OF REGULAR SEASON
The Tommies did all they could to make a final boost to their postseason resume with a 97-0 trampling of St. Olaf Saturday at Klein Field to close out the MIAC regular season.
Running back Stephen Wagner rushed for three touchdowns and 55 yards on seven carries against the Oles. Six backs found the endzone for St. Thomas (8-0 MIAC, 9-1 overall), gashing the porous St. Olaf (3-5 MIAC, 4-6 overall) run defense for 326 yards on 49 attempts.
“I have to attribute (that performance) to the offensive line,” Wagner said of his career day. “If they don’t block well like that, I don’t go anywhere.”
Adding to the O-line’s impressive performance, offensive guard Jaxon Lind scored the final touchdown of the game. He lined up at the fullback position and ran a dive to the left side for a 5-yard score. Caruso, a former lineman, was thrilled when Lind crossed the pylons.
“I’m not going to lie; I didn’t think it would actually happen,” Caruso said of the senior lineman’s first career score. “When he carried that ball across the goal line, he did it for every lineman that’s come through here.”
Lind’s teammates agreed.
“That was the best moment of the season, honestly,” Wagner said.
Though they didn’t have any surprise contributors, the Tommie air attack proved to be as proficient as the ground game. Quarterback Jacques Perra completed 13 of 24 passes for 295 yards and three touchdowns. Two of the three scores came on passes of 61 and 80 yards.
The offense combined for nine touchdowns and surpassed 650 yards of total offense for the third time this season. Heading into the playoffs, Caruso said the whole team, and the offense in particular, needs to focus on one thing.
“Continuing our upward trajectory,” he said. “We want to continue to grow. I think today was a really nice step forward.”
On the other side of the ball, the defense pitched its fourth shutout of the season and held an opponent to a single-digit rushing yard total for the sixth time in the 2017 campaign.
Defensive back Michael Franzese scored the unit’s third touchdown of the season with a 40-yard pick six in the first quarter.
“At first I was just thinking ‘I have to catch this ball’,” Franzese said. “After that, I was just trying to get to the numbers and let my guys get out in front of me, and they led the way into the end zone.”
Entering the game against St. Olaf, the Tommies had the best total defense in Division III football, allowing just 2.81 yards per play and 155.6 yards per game, per the NCAA.
“The scoreboard doesn’t tell you everything,” Franzese said. “Going into the playoffs, there are going to be fuller games. The starters are going to need to be in for all 60 minutes … we need to focus on us and completing our jobs.”
St. Thomas has played in the NCAA tournament in every season since 2014. Last season, the Tommies lost in the national quarterfinals to Wisconsin-Oshkosh in a 34-31 heartbreaker. Caruso believes his team is ready for the elevated challenge at the national stage.
“If we want to get to where we want to go, it’s not going to happen with how we are today,” Caruso said. “We’re going to face a lot of obstacles along the way, and if we’re willing to … get over them as a team, I’d say we’re in pretty good shape.”
Noah Brown can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.