Junior Vinny Pallini had a 94-yard kickoff return on the first play of the season and No. 3-ranked St. Thomas (1-0) went on to a 34-point first quarter en route to a 76-7 win over Trinity International (1-1) Saturday on a hot, humid day at O'Shaughnessy Stadium.
Coach Glenn Caruso improved to 11-0 in season openers with UST as his team rolled up 531 yards of offense and a whopping 379 return yards and punted only once.
St. Thomas had six takeaways and scored the first 34 points and the game's final 42 points. The Toms led 21-0 just 5:12 into the contest.
Trinity, an NAIA school from Deerfield, Ill., was coming off a 53-46 victory over Presentation the previous week. But starting QB Jonathan Santos, who passed for an NAIA record 732 yards in that victory over Presentation (S.D.), missed Saturday's game with an injury.
Trinity hit a 75-yard scoring pass in the second quarter from freshman QB Ryan Heath to freshman Javiel Jones. But the Trojans' spread offense struggled for most of the afternoon and finished with just 106 offensive yards on 58 plays.
St. Thomas' defense, which ranked second among all NCAA teams last season at .203 third-down conversions allowed, blanked the Trojans on third downs today to an 0-for-16 stat line. The Tommies had six takeaways, one return touchdown, seven sacks, forced 11 punts, and allowed minus 31 net rushing yards after 49 yards in sacks were compiled.
Tommie seniors QB Jacques Perra (11-of-12 passing, no turnovers, 124 yards, two TD throws) and RB Josh Parks (11 carries, 129 yards, one TD) played less than two quarters but were efficient. Perra threw short TD passes to Jack Foley and Jackson Finn.
St. Thomas gained a rare 379 yards on 13 kickoff, punt or interception returns. Trinity also had three TD-saving tackles on punt returns deep in its territory, two by punter Carter Andrade to deny UST's Will Toonen the end zone. Toonen finished with 145 punt return yards on only five attempts.
Pallini's opening kickoff return and a 41-yard inteception return by freshman safety Luke Glenna in the fourth quarter are the 49th and 50th return touchdowns of the 11-season Caruso era. The Toms have recorded 11 return TDs in the last eight games dating back to 2017. Glenna also had a 52-yard punt return before he was tripped by the last defender at the Trinity 28-yard-line.
The Toms are off next weekend and open MIAC play Sept. 15 at home against Hamline.