Caruso happy with improvement
The Tommie football team won its home opener Saturday at Palmer Field, defeating the Wisconsin-River Falls Falcons 27-3.
“I think we cleaned up a lot of things that I was not really happy with the last game, primarily the turnovers that we had in the opener and some of the miscommunications,” coach Glenn Caruso said. “I think overall it was good.”
The Tommies got another good game from Dakota Tracy, who threw two passing touchdowns, rushed for a touchdown, and had 100 total offensive yards. Sophomore tight end Logan Marks caught two touchdowns — both were Dakota Tracy passes.
Slow start for both teams
The Tommies drove 50 yards on the game’s opening drive, but the offense halted after an attempted fake field goal on fourth down. Senior quarterback Matt Joshi faked the hold and attempted a pass toward the end zone, but the Falcons defense stayed home and broke up the pass.
Both teams’ offenses started off slow — neither team scored until midway through the second quarter. The Falcons struck first, settling for a 26-yard field goal with 8:02 left in the second quarter after a 79-yard, 20-play drive.
The defense struggled early on with Falcons’ running back Taylor Edwards, who had 73 rushing yards in the first half. Edwards finished with 108 yards on 28 carries.
“He’s a downhill runner. He just runs with his head down so he’s always going to fall forward and that was a challenge for us,” senior defensive lineman Tommy Becker said. “Once we calmed down in that first quarter, we really started sticking it to him.”
The Tommies’ first score came when junior quarterback Greg Morse came in for Tracy late in the second quarter and threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to junior receiver Nick Gleisner, giving the Tommies a 7-3 lead with 4:30 left in the first half. Morse had 52 passing yards during the drive.
“What I’ve realized in coaching the game for 15 years is that I’ve never gone through the season with one quarterback for every single game, so we need to be prepared to play with two quarterbacks,” Caruso said. “I like how it’s working out; it’s a nice tandem to have.”
The Tommie defense stepped up on the ensuing possession when Becker forced the ball away from Falcons quarterback Ryan Luessenheide on a quarterback sneak. Junior linebacker Willy Baregi recovered the fumble 34 yards away from the Falcons end zone.
Six plays later, junior quarterback Dakota Tracy was back on the field, punching in a 1-yard rushing touchdown to take a 14-3 lead with 40 seconds remaining in the first half.
The Tommies had a scare early in the first quarter when all-American running back Ben Wartman went down with an injury, but he was able to walk off the field unassisted. Wartman was back on the field with 7:54 left in the first half.
The River Falls offense was stagnant for most of the second half despite having ball possession for 19:33.
The Tommie defense stopped the Falcons in seven plays on the opening drive, and the offense scored quickly on the ensuing possession. After a three-play, 55-yard drive, Tracy threw an eight-yard touchdown pass to Marks with 10:41 remaining in the the third quarter. Junior kicker Tim Albright missed the extra point, but the Tommies jumped out to a 20-3 lead.
The Falcons offense continued to pound the ball with Edwards despite the 17-point deficit.
The Tommies put the nail in the coffin when Tracy ended a 5-play, 40-yard drive with another 4-yard touchdown pass to Marks. Marks’ two touchdowns were the first of his career.
Wartman rushed for only 20 yards in the second half after he returned from being shaken up in the first quarter, but junior running back Colin Tobin picked up the slack and rushed for 76 yards in the game.
The Tommies will head to Northfield next Saturday to take on the St. Olaf Oles in its first MIAC conference game of the season.
Caruso said he thinks the team will be successful if the offense continues to play well and the defense causes more turnovers than the opponent.
“In my last 14 years of coaching, we win 85 percent of the games that we win the turnover battle,” Caruso said. “If we can be ball secure and win the turnover margin, I’ll feel pretty comfortable.”