If you haven’t done it already, circle your calendar for Oct. 2.
If you ask Coach Glenn Caruso, as I did on “The Locker Room,” he will tell you that the Tommies aren’t looking ahead to that day yet. That’s a good thing. Coaches and players correctly follow the mantra of “one game at a time,” but luckily students and fans don’t have to. They can look ahead to Oct. 2, because it may be the first time in a long time St. Thomas enters the Tommie-Johnnie game as the favorite.
Whether or not that will be the case came into clearer focus with St. Thomas’ conference opener against St. Olaf last Saturday. The game lent a glimpse into what the Tommies may really be capable of this year, which was something that wasn’t easy to figure during the season’s first two games.
It’s notoriously difficult to gauge a team based on non-conference games that open the season. St. Thomas prepared itself for MIAC competition by scheduling an away game at St. Norbert and a home opener against UW-River Falls, and the Tommies looked sharp while easily dismantling both teams.
St. Norbert’s was playing its first game at a new stadium, which could be argued adds to the value of the Tommies’ win. But the season doesn’t truly get underway until the conference schedule begins, so last Saturday’s contest is where the real weighing of the Tommies started.
St. Olaf, coming off of a middle-of-the-pack finish in conference play last year, was an interesting test for St. Thomas. Featuring a dynamic running back and talented young quarterback, the Oles were selected for a top-five finish in the MIAC in the preseason coaches’ poll. How the Tommies handled them said a lot.
It said even more when senior All-American running back Ben Wartman, who was injured during the victory over River Falls, did not suit up for the game. Heading into kickoff it was easy to question if the Tommie offense could be prolific for 60 minutes without Wartman’s running presence. If St. Thomas couldn’t run the ball and control the clock as it has in the past with Wartman, could the defense hold up against extra possessions for the Ole offense?
Those questions were quickly answered.
The Tommies put up 28 points and the defense posted a shutout going into halftime. St. Thomas was clearly the superior team on both sides of the ball. It set the cruise control and coasted to an easy 49-14 victory.
St. Olaf is no pushover. It beat St. Thomas in an epic six-overtime game in 2008, then gave the Tommies all they could handle in a close game last season. There was no such tight competition Saturday. St. Thomas manhandled a solid MIAC opponent and in the process sent a message to St. John’s and the rest of the conference that it is the team to beat. It’s been a long time since that was the case.
Barring major upsets, St. Thomas and St. John’s will both come into Oct. 2 undefeated in MIAC play.
Mark your calendars. MIAC supremacy will be on the line.
Jordan Osterman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.