The St. Thomas defense gave the team the lift it needed as it helped secure a 20-7 victory over Gustavus and the 2011 MIAC conference title on Saturday at O’Shaughnessy Stadium.
While the Tommies had a stellar first quarter, the team had to battle the hard-nosed Gusties for the rest of the game to earn their second consecutive conference title under Coach Glenn Caruso. With the win the Tommies earned an automatic bid to the NCAA playoffs.
Going into the game, Tracy said he and his teammates did not underestimate their opponent based on its losing conference record.
“Their record doesn’t show what kind of team they are,” Tracy said. “They’re competitors.”
First quarter blow-up
Key offensive and defensive plays lit up the first quarter pushing the Tommies ahead 13-0 against Gustavus.
In its first drive of the game, the Tommies drove 60 yards in six plays, which was capped off by a 15-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Dakota Tracy to sophomore wide receiver Dan Noehring.
The Tommies got the ball right back in the next Gustie drive when junior safety Tyler Erstad picked off a pass from Gustavus senior quarterback Logan Becker.
The St. Thomas offense fed off the defensive play by scoring again. This time senior wide receiver Fritz Waldvogel caught a 26-yard touchdown pass from Tracy. The Tommies attempted a two-point conversion but were stopped by solid Gustie defense leaving the score 13-0.
Gusties put up a struggle
The second quarter showed more of a struggle between the two teams. A 74-yard run by Becker lit up the Gustie offense, but the Tommie defense came up big with another interception by junior cornerback Jack Gavin on a Gustie fourth and goal.
Gavin knows his interception stopped what could have been a successful Gustie drive.
“That would’ve made the score 13-7 at the time,” he said. “It was a fourth down play and we really needed that stop.”
Caruso called it “perplexing” to see the team unable to continue its strong play into the second quarter.
“We hit a lull in the second quarter, and it took us awhile to get out of it,” he said.
The Tommies held the Gusties scoreless in the first half. St. Thomas had the opportunity to score at the end of the first half on a 40-yard field goal attempt but kicker Tim Albright had a rare miss keeping the score 13-0.
Second half frustration
Lots of penalties and missed opportunities frustrated the Tommies in the second half. St. Thomas was called for multiple holding penalties and could not covert on its fourth-and-long situations due to solid Gustavus defensive pass coverage.
“It was an overall feeling that things just weren’t moving in a very fluid motion that they have been in the past couple weeks,” Caruso said.
A 15-yard touchdown run by St. Thomas running back Colin Tobin highlighted the end of the third quarter. Albright’s extra point kick was good making the score 20-0 and ending the Tommies’ scoreless drought since the first quarter.
While Tobin said his scoring run “felt great,” he gave the Gustavus defense credit for their tough play.
“Their effort was impeccable,” he said.
The Gusties were able to travel all the way to the Tommies’ six-yard line in the fourth quarter. After a loss of three yards on a previous play, Gustavus scored its first points of the game on a nine-yard touchdown reception by senior wide receiver Elliot Herdina trailing St. Thomas 20-7.
The Tommies got the ball back and started a good drive off key first-down runs by Tracy. He came up big on third down conversions allowing his offense to stay on the field. He said it was a combination of play calls and team effort that provided for solid quarterback keep runs.
An impressive 42-yard run by freshman running back Ryan Toney was called off due to another offensive line holding penalty.
“Penalties killed us today on long plays,” Tracy said.
The Tommies had seven penalties for 63 yards against Gustavus.
“The bottom line is, we shouldn’t put ourselves in the position where we get those [penalties],” Caruso said.
A few bright spots
Senior linebacker Willy Baregi recorded a monster tackle on Becker for a loss of 16 yards in the third quarter.
“I was able to come right through the middle,” he said. “It was a great call.”
Although the Gusties looked to make a big drive with possession of the ball with two minutes left in the game, Gavin once again provided the lift his team needed by snatching a Becker pass near the end zone, his second of the game.
With the win, St. Thomas get a guaranteed share of the conference title and an automatic bid to the NCAA playoffs.
“It feels great,” Baregi said. “But we don’t want to share, we want the whole thing so one more game to go.”
Caruso believes even with his team’s subpar play, the win reflects well on the program.
“We didn’t play to the best of our ability today,” he said. “But to be able to come out of it with a win, secure our second-straight MIAC championship, not have a conference loss in two straight years, we feel pretty good about that.”
The Tommies travel to Northfield next weekend to play Carleton in their last regular season game.
Hayley Schnell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.