By DOUG HENNES
The alligators weren’t around on Saturday at O’Shaughnessy Stadium, and that was a relief to Glenn Caruso.
The fourth-year St. Thomas coach was quoted Saturday morning in a newspaper column that alligators -– figurative or literal –- are one of the things he fears in life because once they wrap you up and pull you under water, it’s over. He laughed about the quote after his Tommies defeated St. Norbert 20-7 in their 2011 season opener.
“No alligators –- just annoyances,” he said. “We’ll still take the win.”
Coming off a 12-1 season and a 30-6 record during Caruso’s first three years, the expectations are high for St. Thomas, ranked No. 5 by d3football.com. The Tommies didn’t disappoint the home crowd of 3,000, rallying for three touchdowns after spotting St. Norbert’s an early 7-0 lead and dominating the game on defense.
“The positives: We got a win and we played a lot of guys early and throughout the game,” Caruso said. “Our defense, after allowing that early score, really stiffened up and stopped St. Norbert on its last 15 possessions.”
The offense also shined in spots. The rushing game struggled and netted only 55 yards in 30 carries, but the passing game sparkled enough, especially when seniors Dakota Tracy and Fritz Waldvogel connected.
Waldvogel caught seven passes for 144 yards to become the St. Thomas career leader in receptions with 225, breaking P.J. Theisen’s record of 218 set from 2003 to 2007. With 3,178 receiving yards in 37 games, Waldvogel is 45 yards short of Theisen’s career record of 3,223.
Tracy threw for a personal best of 336 yards on 18 of 34 passing, including a 62-yard touchdown pass to Waldvogel to gave the Tommies the lead at 13-7. Tracy also scored two touchdowns on short running plays in improving to 16-1 as a starter.
St. Thomas’ offense last year was remarkably balanced, with game averages of 213 yards on the ground and 194 in the air, but Caruso wasn’t surprised the passing game enjoyed the most success against St. Norbert.
“They did everything in their power to force us to throw the ball,” Caruso said of the Green Knights. “They really loaded up the box –- no matter what the situation, they always had one more guy in the box on first on first and second downs.”
St. Norbert opened scoring on its second drive, taking advantage of a Kyle Whitley fumble after a short pass from Tracy. The Green Knights went six plays in 36 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
The Tommies evened the score with 11 minutes left in the second quarter on a Tracy two-yard run, one play after he completed a 26-yard pass to a diving Waldvogel.
The pair connected again five minutes remaining in the half after Josh Carey recovered a St. Norbert fumble at the Tommies’ 38-yard line. Tracy hit Waldvogel, streaking down the left sideline, at the Green Knights’ 20 and he outraced two defenders for the 62-yard score.
“Fritz said, ‘Hey, I can get by this guy,’ and I had faith in him,” Tracy said. “He wheeled it up the sideline and I was able to get the ball to him.”
“It was a straight ‘go’ route,” Waldvogel said. “Dakota threw the perfect pass, and I caught it and went in. It was a fun play.”
PHOTOS: Above, Dakota Tracy and Josh Carey; below, Jack Gavin
The Tommies concluded the scoring in the third quarter, again taking advantage of a St. Norbert turnover. Jack Gavin intercepted a Mike Fabrizio pass at the St. Norbert 43 and returned the ball 17 yards. Four plays later, Tracy scored on a one-yard sneak.
Aside from its one scoring drive, St. Norbert never threatened to score and suffered eight “three and out” series on offense. The Green Knights started only one series in the last three quarters in St. Thomas territory, after an unsuccessful onside kick to start the second half, and had only 180 yards (32 rushing) in 67 plays. The Tommies recorded six sacks, forced 10 punts and held St. Norbert to 3 of 21 conversions on third or fourth down.
“They had a couple of big plays, but I thought we held them in check for most of the game,” said Mike Valesano, a senior linebacker who led St. Thomas with seven tackles. “We like to play that ‘downhill” style of game.”
St. Thomas will be on the road Saturday, traveling to UW-River Falls for its season opener. The Tommies beat the Falcons 27-3 last year on Palmer Field.
Click here for box score:
Click here to view more Greg Smith action photos:
Ben Graham fights for tough yards. (Greg Smith photo)
Fritz Waldvogel pulls away en route to his 30th career touchdown. (Greg Smith photo)
Dan Noehring comes down with one of his three long completions on the day. (Greg Smith photo)