This is part two of my championship team previews. Here’s a look at the Mount Union Stagg Bowl preview.
Where to start with these guys? The Tommies are even older than Mount Union — or at least their school is. According to online sources — and by that I mean Wikipedia — St. Thomas was founded in 1885 as a Catholic seminary, and is named after a Catholic theologian named Thomas Aquinas.
The school featured athletics from the start, but only participated in intramural games. In 1904, the school organized the first Varsity teams. And here we are.
Notably, the school’s mascot is called “Tommie” the tomcat. Originally, he was called “Tommy”, but that changed when women were accepted as full-time students to make the mascot more inclusive. (Also from Wiki.) Interesting, no?
St. Thomas doesn’t have as storied a football history as Mount Union. While the Raiders seemingly reach the championship game every season, the Tommies have only participated in the big game once before — in 2012 … against Mount Union.
The Raiders won that game 28-10 (marking the last time they would win a title), and you can bet your bottom dollar the Tommies are itching for a little revenge.
Now, when I say the Tommies aren’t as storied a franchise as Mount Union, I’m talking in terms of championships. And while championship trophies are indeed hard to come by, the Tommies are seemingly in the mix every single season, well, at least recently: they’ve made the playoffs five times since 2009.
This season marks one of the team’s best ever. St. Thomas dominated its opponents during the regular season, outscoring foes 564-81 en route to a perfect 10-0 record and MIAC title. The team featured the second-best defense in the league (trailing only the Purple Raiders) and an offense that ranked in the top three in terms of yards per game and touchdowns scored.
Including the playoffs, the Tommies are averaging 529.4 yards per game and have scored 101 TDs, while surrendering just 226.6 ypg and 19 touchdowns to opponents. Oh, and the team leads the league in scoring (56.4 ppg).
Let me put it this way: St. Thomas defeated Carleton 80-3. You don’t have games like that and not be considered great.
In the postseason, St. Thomas clobbered La Verne 57-14 in Round 1 and then took down Sam Sura’s Johnnies 38-19 in Round 2. In the quarterfinals they blasted Wabash 38-7 and then cruised passed Linfield 38-17 in the Semifinals. Clearly this team likes the number 38.
The Tommies offense features quarterback John Gould who serves as a solid game manager. He doesn’t throw a ton and typically completes just 15 passes per game, but he gets the job done when called upon. He posted 310 yards and two touchdowns against La Verne, netting over 11 yards per play. In other words, don’t go thinking this team can’t pass the ball just because they prefer to pound the rock on the ground.
Heck, the team’s top two receivers — Nick Waldvogel and Charlie Dowdle — have accumulated 798 and 811 receiving yards and a combined 12 touchdowns, respectively.
Yet, like Mount Union, the team opts to wear down opponents via a stout rushing attack that averages 258 yards per game and has scored 60 times this year. Half of those points came from lead rusher Jordan Roberts, a 6-foot, 222-pound junior currently averaging 139.8 yards per game. The versatile back has so far racked up 1,957 total rushing yards and 32 touchdowns on 325 attempts, and he seemingly gets better with each game.
Roberts started the season with a combined 155 yards against the team’s first two opponents, UW-Eau Clair and UW-La Crosse, before turning up the juice against Saint John’s on Sep. 26, where he totaled 230 yards and four touchdowns in a blowout victory.
His numbers for the playoffs: 518 rushing yards and eight touchdowns on 101 carries. In last week’s victory over Linfield, Roberts totaled a whopping 256 yards and three touchdowns on 33 carries. Impressive.
Also of note, this team’s offensive line is tops in the league, which is why right tackle David Simmet is among the final four currently in contention for the Gagliardi Trophy.
But, like the Raiders, the Tommies pride and joy is their astonishing defense. As stated above, the team holds opponents at bay and allows less than 82 rushing yards per game and 144.9 yards through the air.
Yeah, this team is pretty damned good. I really think they have what it takes to stay competitive against Mount Union on Friday … but can they win? We shall soon find out.
This squad features 28 seniors, including QB John Gould. Luckily, Roberts is just a junior; so we can bank on him anchoring the offense for one more season.
Yet, what really matters is head coach Glenn Caruso sticking around. Caruso is the program’s 29th head coach, but he completely revitalized the team when he came onboard in 2008, taking the previously middle-of-the-road squad to a D3 powerhouse. The team is 73-13 under his watch, with five playoff berths, an 11-5 postseason record and a championship appearance.
So long as Caruso stays around, this team should remain competitive for years to come.