Riding senior All-American Ben Wartman’s stellar second-half performance, St. Thomas defeated Carleton 38-7 Saturday to capture its first 10-0 season in school history.
With the win, the Tommies became the undisputed conference champions and held the plaque up with pride after the game.
“I’m going to remember this one for a long time,” senior quarterback Matt Joshi said. “I’m going to have to sit back and let it all sink in.”
THE GAME IN PHOTOS:
When Glenn Caruso took over as coach three years ago, the team he inherited was just 2-8. Caruso said he recognizes how significant Saturday’s win was.
“I think it’s important for the university,” Caruso said. “When we got here, we knew this was possible. We knew it would take a lot of work, and lot of people working and pulling in the right direction. It wasn’t just coaches and players. There’s a lot of families out there that sacrificed quite a bit to be able to do what we did.”
St. Thomas and Carleton started the game exchanging touchdowns. On the Tommies’ first drive, junior quarterback Greg Morse led the team on a 7-play, 79-yard drive, with his strong arm on display. Senior quarterback Matt Joshi finished the drive with a one-yard sneak after initially fumbling the snap.
“It was not by design,” Joshi said. “Coach [Caruso] said he wanted to try and get me in early, and get me in the end zone. I hadn’t really got a chance to get any snaps with Josh [Ostrue] so I kind of bobbled it. I just picked it up and dove in.”
Carleton answered right back with a methodical 17-play, 77-yard drive, ending with 4-yard run by junior quarterback Vaughn Schmid.
After the early scores, neither team was able to get much going until midway through the second quarter. Using a high-percentage attack of short passes and quarterback keepers, Carleton took the ball all the way to the St. Thomas 5-yard line. On third down, the Tommies received a break when senior Tony Danna forced a Schmid fumble that junior Danny Kane recovered.
“I felt like someone needed to step up and make a big play,” junior Tony Danna said. “Coach called my number and gave me the blitz. It was a great momentum swing. We really needed that before the half.”
The Tommies used the turnover to their advantage, taking the ball to the Carleton 3-yard line. After three unsuccessful scoring attempts, the Tommies settled with a field goal by sophomore Tim Albright, giving them a 10-7 lead at halftime.
“We had to get our attitude right,” Caruso said. “I didn’t think it was proper in the first half.”
The Tommies’ attitude in the second half was all business. The opening drive went 39-yards on seven plays, and it ended in historic fashion when Wartman found the end zone for the 46th time in his career, making him St. Thomas’ career touchdown leader.
“It’s great to break a record, but he’ll be the first one to tell you, ‘We’ll take a win,’” Caruso said. “I actually think Ben got a little bit back on track. In the third quarter, I started seeing the old Ben running the way I like to see him run.”
Wartman lead all rushers with 93 yards on 18 carries and added two touchdowns. Junior Colin Tobin also ran the ball 20 times and compiled 85 yards.
The Tommies finished a 28-point second half with Joshi finding sophomore Logan Marks for a three-yard touchdown pass. Joshi, the team’s third-string quarterback, was one of many seniors who got a chance to play on Senior Day.
“We got all 14 guys (seniors) in,” Caruso said. “We also got some guys in that don’t usually get a whole lot of time. We don’t bring their names up quite often, but they’re what’s right about this program.”
The Tommie defense held Carleton scoreless in the second half and kept a strong MIAC offense to only 186 total yards. Senior Bryan Villar and freshman Harry Pitera lead the team with eight tackles. Danna added two sacks and finished with 6.5 tackles and a forced fumble.
The Tommies have next week off before heading into the NCAA playoffs. Key players like senior linebacker Tommy Becker and junior quarterback Dakota Tracy missed Saturday’s game due to injuries, and the rest will allow the team a chance to recover.
The Tommies are also guaranteed to host the first-round playoff game on their home turf.
“It’s absolutely enormous,” Caruso said. “That’s what this game meant today. It’s the difference between possibly having three or four home games if the work keeps getting done or having none.”
Ryan Shaver can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.