Photo slideshow by Alex Keil, sports editor
Tough defense from both teams was the story of the game, as the No. 3-ranked St. Thomas football team recorded its first shutout of the season blanking Augsburg College 17-0 on the road to remain undefeated.
With the win, the Tommies bumped the Auggies out of a tie for the MIAC lead, taking sole possession of first place.
“I don’t think enough people gave them enough credit,” coach Glenn Caruso said. “I do know that our kids absolutely thought they deserved all of the nationally ranked votes that they got, and they proved today that they do. That’s a very good football team that fought.”
The beginning of the game was not pretty. Both teams stopped each other on its first two possessions as much of the first quarter was spent feeling each other out. Though things began slow, Caruso did not believe the Tommie-Johnnie “hangover” caused the team’s sluggish start.
“I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way,” Caruso said. “It’s good for us coming off big wins to back that up with another really tough opponent.”
On the Tommies’ second drive, Tobin carried the ball seven times for 21 yards as St. Thomas bullied its way to the Augsburg seven-yard line.
On fourth and four, Caruso decided to go for it, but senior quarterback Dakota Tracy threw an interception in the back of the end zone to halt the Tommies’ momentum.
“I gave up two or three touchdowns today,” Tracy said. “I had open receivers, and I overthrew them or threw too high or threw too low. It starts with me.”
For the first time this season, St. Thomas was held scoreless in the first quarter, but on the first play of the second, Tracy connected with senior wide receiver Fritz Waldvogel. Waldvogel made the catch in traffic, shook off a defender and outran the Auggie secondary for a 63-yard score to put the Tommies ahead 7-0.
“It was a little stop route,” Waldvogel said. “It was only like a 10-yard catch, and then I made one guy miss and hit a seam. It was pretty simple, but we just kind of busted it loose.”
Waldvogel’s touchdown was his eighth of the season and tied him for first in the school’s all-time lead in touchdown receptions. Fritz finished the game with seven catches, 110 yards and one touchdown.
The Tommie defense bent but did not break all first half. The Auggies put together a 10-play drive on their first possession of the second quarter, but Tommie linebacker Tony Danna deflected a Marcus Brumm pass on fourth and four to stop the drive.
“When we needed the (defense) to stiffen up, they did,” Caruso said.
St. Thomas marched 51-yards on its next possession finding more success through the air. With the ball on the Augsburg 20-yard line, Caruso once again elected to go for it, this time on fourth and two, but Tracy was tackled on a designed bootleg short of the first down.
“It was just a horrendous play call by yours truly,” Caruso said. “If I had it back, I’d probably change it.”
In the closing minutes of the second quarter, Augsburg put together a 10-play, 52-yard drive that set up a crucial fourth and one. Despite neither teams lack of of fourth down success, Augsburg once again tried its hand at a conversion, but Brumm’s pass was overthrown.
St. Thomas held a 205-145 yard advantage in total offense in the first half, but both teams were unable to score in the red zone.
“We had to tweak a few things,” junior cornerback Chinni Oji said. “After that, we just got it rolling.”
Tommies grind out win in second half
The Tommies remained committed to running the ball at the start of the second half, rushing Tobin six times for 48 yards, including his 19-yard scamper to the sideline. On fourth and five inside Auggie territory, St. Thomas elected to kick a field for the first time connecting from 27-yards out to put the Tommies ahead 10-0.
“In the second quarter they actually really challenged us to run the football, and I take that extremely personally,” Caruso said. “At halftime the only major adjustments we made were attitude-based, but they stayed in their two high safeties, and they said ‘go ahead and try and run it,’ so we did.”
With less than seven minutes left in the third quarter, the Tommies put together a 13-play, 59-yard drive; but three straight incomplete passes set up another fourth down situation. Electing to go for it, Tracy attempted to find a slanting Waldvogel, but his throw was off the mark. The Tommies were 0-3 on fourth down.
Augsburg used the Tommies’ fourth down blunder to its advantage, connecting on a 35-yard pass from Brumm to sophomore wide receiver Hakeem Bourne-McFarlane with just seconds left in the third quarter. The big pass play put the Auggies in Tommie territory, but Oji made a diving interception on Brumm’s next pass giving St. Thomas the ball seconds into the fourth quarter.
“I saw a slant route, and I just jumped it,” Oji said. “It was a big play, and it helped our team.”
Oji is no stranger to big plays. Saturday’s interception was his team-high third pick of the year, and Caruso is thrilled with his effort so far.
“Chinni is everything that’s right about St. Thomas football,” Caruso said. “What I love about him is his attitude. When that ball’s in the air, someone needs to tell him it’s not his ball because he thinks he’s a wide receiver out there. He’s very aggressive when the ball’s in the air.”
St. Thomas looked to capitalize on the Augsburg turnover, turning to Tobin to carry the load. On Tobin’s sixth rush of the drive, a hard hit by an Auggie defender forced a fumble, giving Augsburg the ball in great field position. Despite the fumble, Tobin still had a monster game rushing 32 times for 155 yards.
“Tobin would be the first one to say that’s on him,” Tracy said. “It’s about being smart and being ball secure.”
The game’s first successful fourth down conversion came from two yards out to keep Augsburg’s ensuing drive alive. Facing a fourth down and one from the Tommie nine-yard-line, the Auggies opted against the field goal and surprisingly went away from running back Tyler Maxwell, who rushed for 114 yards in the game, the most against the Tommies all season. Instead, Brumm looked to find a receiver on a short pass, but it fell incomplete.
“Inside the red zone is a manly area,” Caruso said. “Our guys stiffened up, and I really, really, really liked they way they played defense.”
Augsburg’s gamble paid off for St. Thomas when Tracy added to the Tommies’ lead, taking a designed quarterback keeper 50-yards for the score. Tracy rushed 12 times for 124 yards and one touchdown, and he also threw for 154 passing yards.
“Coach Walch always has a saying that he says to the receivers, but really it pertains to a lot of positions, and it’s ‘your patience will be rewarded,” Tracy said. “I don’t know why I thought about it at that time when I was running, but I saw my blocks there and I just thought, ‘patience and it will open up’ and it did.”
Up 17-0, the defense forced Augsburg off the field in three plays, and the Auggies would not see the ball again.
“Today defense was definitely the backbone of this team,” Tracy said. “We (the offense) put them in a lot of bad positions, and they had our backs today.”
Ryan Shaver can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.