The sixth-ranked St. Thomas football team (2-0) looks to continue its early success as it prepares to visit rival St. John’s University at 1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 15.
The unranked Johnnies (2-0) head into this weekend’s game off of a 31-28 road victory over the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. St. John’s junior quarterback Connor Bruns was 16-for-22 for 251 yards and two touchdowns in the win.
The Tommies defeated the Blugolds in this year’s season opener, Saturday, Sept. 1, escaping with a 27-24 victory.
Last season, the Tommies dismantled the Johnnies 63-7 at home. Coach Glenn Caruso thought last year’s game was an “anomaly.”
“Nobody really thought the game was going to go that way,” Caruso said. “Our kids worked tirelessly for that opponent and they were able to relax allowing their abilities to come out.”
St. Thomas has struggled with penalties, having accumulated 23 for 189 yards in its first two games.
Caruso attributes some penalties to getting into “game shape.”
“The first game or two we’re going to have penalties,” Caruso explained. “It’s really nothing more than conscious efforts to finish with your body in good leverage position, which is something we have to work on.”
Up until 2010, the Tommies had lost the previous 12 matches against the Johnnies. Now St. Thomas looks to secure its first three-game win streak against St. John’s since the 1954-1956 seasons.
Caruso knows the Johnnies cannot be taken lightly.
“Much like us, they just want to come out and play a good football game,” Caruso said.
This season, the St. John’s defense has held opponents to 171.5 yards passing per game. Sophomore wide receiver Dan Ferrazzo believes the team will be prepared for the Johnnie secondary.
“The coaches always do a great job of drawing up a successful game plan each and every week for us to execute,” Ferrazzo said. “As receivers, we will have to go out and execute the game plan and just play hard.”
The Johnnie defense has allowed opponents to 678 yards of total offense this season, while the Johnnie offense has compiled 948 yards of total offense.
Senior safety Josh Carey said he thinks that the St. John’s offense looked “good” on film.
“They stretch the field really, really well,” Carey said. “Our secondary will need to be ready for that Saturday.”
Bruns has completed 70.5 percent of his passes this season, throwing for three touchdowns, while also being the team’s third leading rusher. The Johnnies are a perfect 11-for-11 in the red zone heading into Saturday’s game.
“The coaches have a great game plan for us this week to be ready for their passing game,” Carey explained. “It all comes down to executing on the field.”
Ferrazzo feels a key to victory is to maintain a balance on offense.
“I believe that our offense does a great job in both the pass and run game,” Ferrazzo said. “We have an incredible offensive line that communicates very efficiently.”
Saturday marks the Tommies’ third trip in four years to Clemens Stadium. During that span, St. Thomas is 2-1 with the lone loss coming in 2009, a 20-17 overtime stunner.
The 81st edition of this storied-rivalry marks St. John’s coach John Gagliardi’s 600th game in his 60th season with the Johnnies.
Although playing an archrival on a historic afternoon, Ferrazzo said he believes that the Tommies must treat Saturday’s game as any other.
“The intensity from the fans and students of each respective school may change, but as a team, we bring the same intensity to every contest,” Ferrazzo said.
Ross Schreck can be reached at email@example.com.