By DOUG HENNES
On his post-game show Saturday on WCCO Radio, St. Thomas coach Glenn Caruso said – and he was dead serious – that his team “didn’t play the perfect game by any stretch of the imagination” in defeating St. John’s 63-7.
The fans convened outside the WCCO trailer laughed. “Then just what,” one of them asked with a big grin on his face, “would perfection be?”
Good question, and while Caruso cannot be faulted for finding little things that his players didn’t execute to perfection, the Tommie faithful weren’t bashful about viewing the results in that manner.
“This is what you dream about,” said senior running back Colin Tobin, who gained 146 yards on 24 carries and scored two touchdowns. “In games like this, you want to be perfect, to be the best you can be. The entire team certainly was that today.”
All kinds of records fell on Saturday, starting with a sun-splashed O’Shaughnessy Stadium crowd estimated at 10,420, demolishing the 1982 record of 8,541, also recorded against St. John’s. St. Thomas students clad in purple packed temporary bleachers beyond the north end zone, while Johnnie red filled the south end.
The No. 3 Tommies (5-0 overall, 3-0 MIAC) tied the school record for most points scored in the modern era, equaling totals in 1989 against Augsburg and 2009 against Hamline. They handily topped the record for largest win over St. John’s (the previous was 56-21 in 1986) and won back-to-back games over their archrivals for the first time since 1986-97. Fritz Waldvogel picked up another individual career record, this one for all-purpose yards, and is at 6,178.
Yet the senior All-American wide receiver shrugged off the records – individual or team – and insisted the Tommies treated their preparation for their big game against the Johnnies “like any other week.”
“We just wanted to come out and execute,” said Waldvogel, who caught seven Dakota Tracy passes for 131 yards and three touchdowns. “With the St. John’s games of the last three years – two losses at the end of the games as a freshman and sophomore and barely beating them last year, a game like this gives you a really good feeling.”
And that is a feeling, Caruso told his players in the huddle after the game, that they earned.
“This game has been in the works for four years,” he said, paying tribute to the seniors who he recruited for his first year at St. Thomas in 2008. “It all came to fruition today. I am immensely proud of you.”
The Tommies dominated in all three phases of the game – offense, defense and special teams – as they sprinted to a 63-0 lead in the third quarter. It was the second-most points given up by the vaunted St. John’s program in its rich history (St. Olaf defeated the Johnnies 82-0 in 1930).
St. Thomas outgained St. John’s 446-246 in total offense, including 225-57 on the ground, and rolled up a 21-0 first-quarter lead in holding the Johnnies to minus-nine yards. The defense forced forced four consecutive three-and-out punts to open the game and also ended the fifth series after three plays, on an interception.
Special teams picked up their first score of the year on a blocked punt that was returned for a touchdown, and Tim Albright hit all nine PAT kicks to give him 53 in a row dating back to October 2010.
“We focused from the very first play,” Caruso said. “We didn’t get caught up in the hype. We just focused.”
As they did against St. Olaf two weeks ago, the Tommies took advantage of superb field position on every series in the first half, scoring on all six offensive possessions with drives of 45, 43, 53, 13, 45 and 55 yards.
The Tommies went up 7-0 on a nine-play drive that ended with a one-yard Tobin run. The second drive went 10 plays, Tracy notching the first of five touchdown passes by hitting tight end Logan Marks with a three-yard score on fourth-and-one at the 3.
The quarter ended 21-0 on a 31-yard Tracy pass to Waldvogel – the first of three acrobatic touchdown catches that he made on the left edge of the end zone. The other two came on third-quarter on tosses of 25 and 12 yards, giving Waldvogel 25 career touchdown receptions – one shy of Sean Higgins’ school record of 26 in 1979-82.
“On the last one, Dakota told me that he didn’t even see me but just threw it up there and trusted me to catch it,” Waldvogel said. “That kind of timing goes back to all of the work that we did in the off-season.”
Tracy felt the same way.
“Credit the offensive line for giving me time to throw those passes,” said Tracy, who completed 12 of 15 passes for 192 yards, increased his passing efficiency to 179.5 and fell just one touchdown short of the six-touchdown record held by Tom Stallings (1993) and Chris Esterley (1996). “The biggest thing with Fritz is the trust factor. If you give him time to make the plays, he’ll be there.”
The Tommies’ special teams and defensive play led to the first three touchdowns of the second quarter, following a blocked punt, an interception and a fumble recovery:
--Linebacker Harry Pitera’s punt block came at the St. John’s 20 and cornerback Jack Gavin picked it up at the 10 and ran it in for the 28-0 lead. “I was just able to get free on the edge,” said Pitera, who also had eight tackles and a fumble recovery. “I got the ball with my hands and then looked up to see Jack grab the ball.”
--On the next series, linebacker Willy Baregi intercepted a pass at the St. John’s 35 and ran it back to the 13. Five plays – and after two 15-yard penalties against the Tommies – Tracy found wide receiver Kyle Whitley in the left corner of the end zone for a 35-0 lead.
--The Johnnies recorded their first first down of the game on the next series, but linebacker Tony Danna picked up one of his three – and the team’s seven – sacks and forced the midfield fumble recovered by Pitera. Tracy led the Tommies downfield in five plays, sneaking in from the 1 for a 42-0 lead.
The Johnnies then mounted their first serious drive of the game, moving from their 24 into St. Thomas territory for the first time before turning the ball over on downs at the 45. Tracy and Tobin accounted for all 55 yards on the next drive, with Tobin hitting 111 yards on the ground and scoring from the three for a 49-0 halftime lead.
St. Thomas’ final two touchdowns came in the third quarter on the Tracy passes to Waldvogel, and the Johnnies averted the shutout with 4:10 left in the game on an 11-yard run. Baregi wished the Tommies could have held St. John’s scoreless but could find little fault with the play of his defensive teammates.
“The coaches put in a bunch of new stuff and told us what to watch for,” Baregi said. “It was 11 guys to the pile all day, and when we can plug holes like we did, we’re in pretty good shape.”
The Tommies’ next big test will be Saturday at Augsburg (4-0 overall, 3-0 MIAC). The Auggies are tied for the MIAC lead with St. Thomas after defeating Carleton 35-14.
Click here for box score:
Colin Tobin dashes for the first of two rushing TDs. (Mike Ekern photo)
Logan Marks catches a 4th-down TD pass in the first quarter. (Mike Ekern photo)
Coach Glenn Caruso hugs senior Fritz Waldvogel after he contributed three TDs in Saturday's 63-7 victory. (Mike Ekern photo)
The Tommies sing the school song and celebrate their 19th regular-seaosn win in a row. (Mike Ekern photo)