Late comeback helps football top St. Olaf in MIAC opener

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Video by Cole Trace and Kari Jo Johnson

<p>SLIDESHOW: Besides game action photos, check out the pre and postgame moments caught by Chief Photo Editor Josh Kleven.</p>
SLIDESHOW: Besides action photos, check out the pregame and post-game moments caught by Chief Photo Editor Josh Kleven.

The St. Thomas football team erased the memory of a Division-III record six-overtime defeat at St. Olaf last year with a 27-16 win to open its MIAC season Saturday at Palmer Field.

Big performances from junior running back Ben Wartman and sophomore wide receiver Fritz Waldvogel helped hand St. Olaf its first loss.

“It means everything to beat these guys,” coach Glenn Caruso said. “This one has been lamenting in our heads for 364 days. For our guys to come out and play the way they did was heartwarming.”

The Oles entered the game with a 2-0 record and were looking for its fifth straight victory against the Tommies. The Oles easily handled its first two opponents, Pacific Lutheran and Luther College, by outscoring them 79-20 and holding opposing offenses to less than 150 yards per game.

St. Thomas came into the home opener 1-0 and ranked No. 18 nationally after a 54-14 crushing of the Macalester Scots. Sophomore wide receiver Fritz Waldvogel said beating St. Olaf and grabbing the MIAC season opener was huge.

“There’s been a lot of buzz for Tommie football this year, and we didn’t want this to be the buzz kill, losing in the first MIAC game,” he said.

Both teams stalled on their opening drives in the first quarter. The Oles’ second drive carried them into St. Thomas territory, but a fourth down attempt was stopped by senior linebacker Tommy Becker.

Herrera, Tommies score first

The Tommies took over at its own 25-yard line, converting on a fourth down sneak by sophomore quarterback Greg Morse. Morse then connected with Waldvogel on a 29-yard catch and then a 13-yard reception. Combined with solid rushes by Wartman and sophomore backup quarterback Dakota Tracy, the Tommies got into the Oles’ red zone and capped off the drive with a 7-yard touchdown pass to senior tight end Joe Herrera.

St. Thomas’ defense held strong against the Oles on the following drive. But when the Tommies got the ball back, Waldvogel fumbled on a screen pass, forced by senior linebacker Adam Concannon and the ball was recovered by St. Olaf.

The Tommies held a 7-0 lead at the end of the first quarter, but the Oles came out strong in the second. Senior quarterback John Haberman connecting with junior wide receiver Antonio Jennings, and strong runs from sophomores Leon Clark and Kevin Foss led the Oles down the field, and the drive was finished off by a 1-yard touchdown sneak by Haberman. But St. Thomas junior Blake Brix blocked the extra point, creating a 7-6 lead for the Tommies.

On the ensuing St. Thomas possession, Morse dropped back on third and 11 and attempted a pass to Waldvogel at midfield, but St. Olaf sophomore corner Nick Branjord made a spectacular play and tipped the ball to teammate Luevano, who then returned it to the 50-yard line.

Later in the quarter, St. Olaf put together a 10-play, 79-yard drive that ended with a 25-yard touchdown run by senior Carson Jones. The touchdown run was a sneaky one as the Oles were lined up in field goal formation and Jones took off for the end zone after receiving the snap. Jones’ trick play score gave St. Olaf a halftime lead of 13-7.

Fourth quarter comeback

The Tommie defense came out strong in the second half, forcing the Oles to go three and out. Junior Cyrus Allen sacked Haberman and forced a fumble. St. Olaf recovered the ball but were then forced to punt.

Wartman then led a successful scoring drive for St. Thomas, breaking off large runs in tandem with bubble screens to Waldvogel. A reverse pass from senior wide receiver Tony Margarit to Waldvogel induced a pass interference penalty, bringing the Tommies to St. Olaf’s 12-yard line. Wartman capped off the 80-yard drive by taking a 10-yard sweep into the endzone, giving the Tommies a 14-13 lead.

But Josiah Powell’s 37-yard field goal late in the third quarter gave the Oles a 16-14 lead. With just 12 minutes left in the fourth quarter, Powell couldn’t capitalize on a 29-yard field goal attempt, keeping the score 16-14 as St. Thomas took over on downs.

Once on offense, Wartman brought the Tommies deep into Ole territory with a 15-yard run. The Tommies dug into its bag of tricks to take the lead, using a double reverse pass from Morse to Wartman for a 27-yard touchdown strike. An incomplete pass on the two-point conversion left the Tommies with a 20-16 lead.

With just under three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Wartman sealed the game when broke free for a 59-yard touchdown run, putting the Tommies ahead for good 27-16.

Wartman ended the day with 24 carries for 176 yards and two touchdowns, in addition to two catches for 34 yards and another touchdown. Waldvogel was Morse’s favorite target on the day, ending with 11 catches for 127 yards. Morse racked up 164 yards through the air including two touchdowns and one interception.

Dan Grimmer can be reached at

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