Gene's Blog: Team Berry meets Team Balance

For the seventh time in nine seasons, St. Thomas Football will celebrate Thanksgiving weekend at home with a second-round national playoff game at O'Shaughnessy Stadium.

Face it: the malls will be crowded, the golf courses are closed, the sun will be shining, it's still early to put up outdoor Christmas decorations, and this year's Michigan-Ohio State game could put you to sleep.

So you might as well pack the car with friends and family and take in this game at high noon in St. Paul.

For an $8 adult ticket (or $4 student ticket), you can watch 11-0 Berry College, an up-and-coming bunch from Georgia, test Glenn Caruso's latest intriguing St. Thomas team.

Berry has NCAA football's third longest win streak at 16. The school's first football season was in 2013, and now in year five the guys from Mount Berry, Ga., have reached the postseason. The Vikings' senior DE Mamadou Soumahoro is a beast of an athlete who has recorded 37 career sacks.

St. Thomas is 91-11 in football this decade, including a 16-6 postseason record. The Tommies have won their last 28 games against MIAC opponents. Over the last three seasons, their 36-3 record includes a 35-0 mark against teams not from Oshkosh or Menomonee, Wis., or Alliance, Ohio.

This second-round playoff game during the Caruso era has traditionally been a fun day for Tommie fans. It has produced a 6-0 record, including a double-digit win over archrival St. John's in 2015, plus a two-overtime defeat of Linfield in temperatures in the teens back in 2011.

In fact, St. Thomas Football has also won 32 of its last 33 November games.

 

Did You Hear?

If you need additional incentive to come over to Cretin and Summit and watch, consider these side dishes:

The Tommies' defense graduated four All-America players from a 12-1 team of 2016... and is actually playing even better in 2017 as a unit. 

St. Thomas has seven former FBS or FCS players -- two scholarship guys, and five who were preferred walk-ons. One was knocked out in late September with a season-ending injury. Another is a co-starter at RB. One switched positions to get onto the field at WR. Another contributes on special teams and as a backup linebacker.

This UST team's best punt returner, 5-foot-9 freshman Tom Loeffler, was... a state placewinning shot putter five months ago in his only season of high school track and field. Loeffler made ESPN's highlight reel last weekend for another track and field move as he leaped over a Eureka defender en route to a 27-yard touchdown.

This UST's team's most productive wide receiver, 6-foot sophomore Gabe Green, was... a backup quarterback 12 months ago.

One of the team's All-MIAC linebackers, senior Dylan Andrew, was... a backup quarterback just two years ago.

The team's most effective punter, with a 45-yard average, junior Jacques Perra, is also... its starting quarterback. In his last six games, Perra has passed for 1,251 yards and 13 touchdowns with just one interception.

The team's No. 1 placekicker, Bryan Steinsapir (4-of-6 field goals, 49-of-51 PATs) grew up... in Chile and watched America football clips on YouTube.

Five different tight ends have combined to score 68 points, led by senior Matt Christenson's six TD catches. Three different players have kicked field goals.

This team's defensive sparkplug, senior and first-year starter Austin Jochum was selected last week as the conference's Mike Stam Award winner (best offensive or defensive lineman). Jochum is another guy thriving in a new role -- he was an O-lineman and linebacker and also wrestled in high school in Foley, Minn., a town of 2,400. After a modest start in college track and field, he has emerged among the best Division III throwers in both the weight throw and hammer.

The Tommie defense and special teams alone -- not even including the kickers -- have outscored opposing offenses 50-35 over the last five games.

The Toms have received either a takeaway, a sack, a blocked kick, a forced fumble or defensive points from 23 different players this season.

The Tommies' 79 touchdowns lead Division III, and 23 different players have scored at least one.

The Toms had 19 players voted either first-team, second-team or honorable mention all-conference. Only eight of those players are seniors, and eight of them are first-year starters. 

In the last six games alone, St. Thomas defense has only allowed opponents five trips inside their the red zone with just three touchdowns scored.

St. Thomas has played three teams that won eight or more games -- St. John's, Concordia-Moorhead and Eureka. Those teams combined to rush for nearly 9,200 yards in 32 games, but that includes just 125 net rushing yards on 95 carries against the Tommies.

You won't see many more balanced teams. Eleven different Tommie defenders have at least one interception. Ten different Toms have caught a touchdown pass. This season no UST running back has had a 125-yard or better rushing day, and no Tommie has had a 100-yard receiving day.

Three different Toms, all sophomores or freshmen, have combined to record four punt or kickoff returns of 50-plus yards.

By one metric, one could say that junior LB Blake Weber is tied for No. 63 among the MIAC's best football players, since he was voted honorable mention All-MIAC. That means he didn't make the more select all-conference list of 62 first or second-teamers. If you watched this former Minnesots Gopher athlete fly around the field this year, you will probably disagree.

 

History

Last weekend, Ronald Reagan's former school, the Eureka College Red Devils, played on the St. Thomas campus. Eureka battled but was unable to win one for the Gipper. St. Thomas has its own George Gipp connection. Its 1920-25 head football coach, Joe Brandy, was a starting Notre Dame quarterback and played in the same backfield as Mr. Gipp.

And this Saturday brings another bridge to the past. This marks St. Thomas' second postseason game against an opponent nicknamed Vikings. The previous one was in 1948, UST's famed Cigar Bowl team that played the mighty Missouri Valley Vikings to a 13-13 tie in Tampa, Fla. That's also the last St. Thomas team to record four shutouts in a season, matched by the 2017 Toms.

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Gene's Blog is a sports column penned by UST sports information director Gene McGivern. Gene is working his 24th season at St. Thomas and 30th overall in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. He blogs periodically on various topics regarding the Tommies, the MIAC and Division III sports.

If you have comments or questions, e-mail Gene at [email protected]