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Gene's Blog: Toms play Ketchup, find secret sauce

B.J. Pickard photo
B.J. Pickard photo

Nov. 2-3, 2018 will be go down in Tommie athletics lore as the weekend of the Comeback. Comebacks wih a capital C.

Four times during that two-day span, a nationally-ranked St. Thomas team was in trouble in the final period of regulation. To be exact, three times the Purple trailed in the final 3:10 on the clock, and the other game was tied with 10:00 to go.

A variety of Tommies didn't panic and stayed the course. Poise paid off. In what easily could have turned into a combined 0-3-1 outcome and mass frustration, St. Thomas came away with three wins and a tie.

Six of the key Tommie playmakers share this in common: They came to campus from hometown destinations in Pennsylvania, Missouri, Illinois and California.

All three of these nationally-ranked Tommie teams will try to build on these performances and embrace a belief that the best is yet to come.


Better Lat' than Never  

No. 15-ranked Tommie Men's Hockey trailed St. Mary's 3-2 into the final minute Friday night on home ice. Then lightning struck. 

Sophomore Elijah Latimer's extra-attacker goal with 46 ticks remaining knotted the score 3-3, and overtime followed. The game finished 3-3 after a scoreless 5:00 OT frame, but UST used a shootout-session goal by Brett Gravelle to take two points for the conference standings.

St. Thomas won last year's MIAC title over St. John's by a 34-33 margin in the standings. Indeed, every point counts.

A native of Clifford Township, Pa., Latimer wears lucky jersey No. 13. He scored no goals in his opening 16 games as a freshman. Then last February he collected his first goal as a collegian to aid a 6-5 comeback win over Hamline that let UST take the conference title. Latimer also scored a goal the previous weekend to help the Toms take a 5-4 comeback victory over Bethel.


E, E, E and E Steal the Show

Back on the St. Thomas campus on Saturday afternoon, No. 18-ranked St. Thomas Women's Hockey trailed Augsburg 1-0 two-thirds of the way through their 90-minute playoff championship game. 

Midway through the first half, Augsburg's Ashley St. Aubin scored her 21st goal in her 21st game of the season. Needing a win to reach the NCAA playoffs, the Auggies gained confidence with each passing minute.

Then in a performance worthy of the E Network, Tommie newcomers and role players Kristen Epperly and Ellie Eskierka flipped the script.

A freshman from Dardenne Prairie, Mo., Epperly recorded the tying goal in the 65th minute to turn momentum. It was her third goal of the season. 

As the clock passed 77 minutes and the score tied 1-1, another role player. senior Mary Ennis entered the game and promptly pushed the ball up the right side. She beat the defender, and her dish into the box created chaos. Seconds later, Eskierka, a sophomore transfer, buried the go-ahead goal, her third of the season.

In the 87th minute, Eskierka set up teammate Mallory DeBoom with a sweet lead pass that the senior converted into a breakaway insurance goal to cap a 3-1 victory. 

DeBoom now has 44 career goals, and St. Thomas has a regular-season and playoff championship sweep for the first time since the postseason format began in 2003.

Continuing a theme, UST keeper Olivia Elvidge saved four shots in the second half.

The 18-2 Toms head to NCAA playoff action next weekend in La Crosse, Wis., knowing they can play well from ahead... or play from behind if needed. 


No Guts, No Glory

Also on Saturday afternoon, Tommie Football had an uncharacteristically slow start. Heinz Ketchup slow. 

Needing a win to keep postseason hopes alive, No. 7-ranked Tommie Football trailed Gustavus 13-0 at halftime on the road. The score went unchanged into the fourth quarter. With a steady rain adding to a bleak mood, the Purple seemed to be in a hole with neither a shovel or a shovel pass to save them. Gustavus was celebrating Senior Day, and the 14 spotlight guys in their final home games were sensing an upset. If they needed any more incentive, some of those Gustie seniors were age 10 the last time Gustavus beat the Tommies in football. 

Coach Glenn Caruso always goes by the book. Except when he doesn't go by the book. Trailing 13-7 with under 10:00 to play, Glenn called for a fake punt from near his own goal line. The fake worked, the drive continued, and before you could sing a 830 WCCO AM radio jingle, the Tommies were celebrating a 14-13 escape that kept a prime season goal afloat.

The Toms have had some epic special teams plays in the Caruso era, including a fake field goal that scored a touchdown in the 2012 Stagg Bowl loss to Mount Union. But when Northbrook, Ill., native Mark Dowdle punted on the punt option and dashed 24 yards on 4th-and-11, he created a video clip destined for a long shelf life on YouTube.

With a fresh set of downs, tailback Josh Parks pounded away en route to his 98-yard second half, and St. Thomas marched toward a possible go-ahead touchdown. Gustavus dug in, and it was 4th-and-8 at the 25 with 2:35 to play when Caruso called a time out. The coach put the moment -- and possibly the season -- in the hands of backup QB Ronnie Jones, the pride of Pleasanton, Calif. 

What Jones lacked in game experience and on that day's stat line -- he was 4-for-16 passing for 36 yards -- he made up for in calm. All that people will recall is the lefty gunned a spiral to the end zone, where Springfield, Ill., native Gabe Green pulled it down for a 25-yard TD to make it 13-13. A Tyler Knutson PAT kick made it 14-13. Adam Brant's interception in the final minute burst the Gustie bubble and closed out a second-half shutout for the Tommie D. 

The 8-1 Tommies head to Bethel next Saturday to face the 8-1 Royals with an NCAA playoff berth on the line. Intensity? The only thing fake when these teams square off in football on the grass in Arden Hills are the occasional Caruso punt plays. 


Win in Winona

Pumped up by Friday's finish, St. Thomas Men's Hockey traveled to Winona Saturday night. Its 2-0 lead through two periods quickly vanished, and Coach Jeff Boeser's team again trailed SMU 3-2 with time running out. Boeser had to wonder if his guys would learn a hard lesson in focus and consistency if it lost this one in this manner.

Then UST junior Brett Gravelle tied the game with a goal with 3:08 to play. With another overtime looming, freshman Luke Radetic, a native of Chesterfield, Mo., scored a go-ahead goal with just 31 seconds left on the clock.

I wasn't ready to call these comebacks of biblical proportions, but consider this: On back-to-back nights, we did witness two last-minute game-saving laser shots... by guys named Elijah and Luke. Can I get a Hallelujah!

Gravelle's empty-net goal seconds later capped his hat trick. It also let the Toms win 5-3 and take five of the series' six points in the MIAC standings.

After this whirlwind 24 hours, you have to take your hat off to these Tommie teams. Even when they're in a pickle, they find the secret sauce.



Gene's Blog is a sports column penned by UST sports information director Gene McGivern. Gene is working his 25th season at St. Thomas and 31st 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