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Video by Michael Ewen
The old cliche, “Revenge is a dish best served cold,” couldn’t be any more true for the Tommies.
On a frigid Saturday afternoon at Palmer Field, St. Thomas avenged last year’s season-ending loss to Linfield College (Ore.), beating the Wildcats 24-17 in an overtime thriller and advancing to the third round of the NCAA playoffs.
THE GAME IN PHOTOS
“The guys really had a chip on their shoulder from last year,” senior linebacker Tommy Becker said.
In last year’s game, the Tommies committed five turnovers and lost 30-21. In this year’s contest, St. Thomas committed five turnovers again, but managed to pull through.
So what made the difference? Playing at home was one factor, coach Glenn Caruso said.
In the playoffs, travel time cuts into practice time, and the home-field advantage gave the team more time to prepare, Caruso said.
“We didn’t feel rushed because we didn’t have to get on a bus or get on a plane,” Caruso said. “We worked tirelessly [this season] to be at home, and it certainly paid dividends today.”
That tireless work helped in scoring the winning touchdown, said junior receiver Fritz Waldvogel. During a broken play in overtime, quarterback Dakota Tracy improvised and led Waldvogel with a 10-yard pass in the back of the end zone. He made a diving catch to give the Tommies a 24-17 lead.
“I think it’s a credit to how hard we work in the off-season,” Waldvogel said. “We put a lot of hours in the off-season just throwing the ball around. I think in the end that really helps out.”
The Wildcats had a chance to send the game into a third overtime on the ensuing possession, but the Tommies forced senior running back Taylor Avritt to fumble four yards from the end zone. Junior linebacker Willy Baregi, the MIAC’s leader in fumble recoveries, scooped up the ball to seal the victory. Baregi said he was “in the right place at the right time.”
The victory was the Tommies’ second overtime thriller this year. The first came in a 27-26 win over St. John’s in Collegeville.
“Once it got to overtime we felt pretty comfortable with it,” Caruso said. “We were in overtime earlier this year, and if anything it was probably a positive experience because we came out with a win in St. John’s. … Now that I think about it, we’re pretty excited about overtime games.”
Unusual number of turnovers
St. Thomas had a high number of turnovers, five, compared with the rest of the season. The team ended a streak of 10 consecutive quarters without a turnover.
But the turnovers were obstacles the Tommies could overcome, Caruso said.
“That’s a testament to how well this team can play, even when we don’t play our best game,” he said.
Two of Tracy’s three interceptions in the second quarter led to 10 points for the Wildcats. Linfield junior Christian Hanna returned the first interception 50 yards, setting up a 2-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Aaron Boehme to senior receiver Chris Slezak. The second interception came on the ensuing possession and led to freshman Jordan Walker’s 27-yard field goal, knotting the score at 10-10 at halftime.
Tracy threw another interception in the third quarter.
Despite putting “the team in a bad situation today,” Tracy said, he leaned on his teammates for support, which helped give the Tommies the edge in overtime.
“I’ve got a great offensive line, defense and receivers that are going to pick me up when I’m down,” he said. “When I know that I have those guys around me I feel very comfortable going into each and every play.”
Next up: Bethel
While the turnover streak is dashed, a more important streak has continued for St. Thomas: victories. The Tommies will try to extend their historic winning streak to 13-0 on Saturday, Dec. 4, against No. 14 Bethel, a MIAC opponent. St. Thomas defeated Bethel 10-6 on Oct. 23.
Bethel won its first two games in the playoffs, defeating No. 11 Wartburg College (Iowa) 28-20 and No. 15 Wheaton College (Ill.) 15-10 on Saturday.
Senior center Josh Ostrue, an All-American, said he’s excited to get one last crack at the crosstown rival.
“It’s kind of a smash-mouth game against those guys,” he said. “You come out with a little more bumps and bruises out of that game, but that’s kind of what we look forward to.”
Miles Trump can be reached at email@example.com.