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Eagles put the 'D' in North Central's defeat

More news about: St. Thomas | UW-La Crosse | Whitworth
UW-La Crosse got five takeaways on North Central's final five possessions to take the lead and hold it. 
UW-La Crosse athletics photo

Six forced turnovers, two of them returned for six point touchdowns equals a win over number six for UW-La Crosse.

The Eagles shocked North Central on the road Saturday 21-17 as Jacob Flegner returned a 39-yard interception return with 13:20 to give the Eagles the game winning score. The other defensive touchdown came on a 57-yard fumble recovery by Brandon Heeg.

"Had we not we those turnovers, we wouldn't have won the game," said La Crosse coach Joel Dettwiler. The Eagles were vastly outgained 397-206.

Sometimes an opportunistic defense cures the woes of a not-so-great stat sheet.

"We can get much better fundamentally," Dettwiler said, "(But) you can't not give credit to North Central."

A confident Dettwiler told his team that a win against a team that hadn't lost a regular season home game since Wheaton defeated them Oct. 6. 2007 was very possible.

"We knew going into that game they graduated lot of kids on defense," Dettwiler said about the Cardinals who graduated eight defensive starters. "It was an opportunity for us, if we could get on them and punch and make them bleed. They have new kids, new leaders, you punch them and they bleed and they worry."

The confidence is building for the Eagles, who finished 3-7 a season ago, which also was Dettwiler's first season.

"I talked to the kids afterwards and said 'You worked your butt off and you won a big game,'" he said. "Just as much as you want to be successful, you've got to be able to handle success. We just want to be blue collar guys. You want to be proud of what you did but you have to be humble and there's more work to do."

And the second of four road trips are on the horizon for UW-La Crosse as it battles Division II Northern Michigan in Marquette, Mich., on Thursday. A weary, but happy group was willing to do the extra work necessary on a short week.

"We all got up Sunday morning and watched tape at 9 a.m.," Dettwiler said. "We watched tape and learned from it, left with a great feeling. Everyone was into it. We are going through to that process. (Monday's) practice from what we had a year ago, even when we won games, was definitely better."

St. Thomas survives with help from stands

With eighth-ranked St. Thomas down 24-13 at UW-Eau Claire with 4:43 to go, the sidelines at St. Thomas were a little quiet. Enter Rachael Caruso, coach Glenn Caruso's wife.

"There wasn't too much chatter," Glenn Caruso said. "She was getting everyone excited. My wife can stay positive in any time of situation."

The team responded to their biggest cheerleader's enthusiasm by scoring two touchdowns in 2 minutes, 11 seconds, the game-winner on a 32-yard rushing touchdown by sophomore quarterback Matt O'Connell, in his first start.

O'Connell guided the Tommies on a 49-yard touchdown pass to Dan Ferrazzo with 3:46 left. O'Connell also hooked up with Logan Marks for a 2-point conversion to trim the deficit to 24-21.

"He's a stone cold stud," Caruso said. "He played like a very seasoned veteran."

O'Connell ended the game with 312 yards of total offense (266 passing, 46 rushing) and had a say in all three St. Thomas touchdowns. Caruso continued to gush about his young signal caller.

"He's a 19-year-old kid that played like a 25-year-old," Caruso said. "As a head coach, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, I appreciate that greatly."

Something else the coach cherishes on a daily basis is his wife.

"I got three dozen calls, e-mails, texts from players and fans about Rachael getting the crowd going. I always say this is a family. it really was."

And the Carusos will always have a reminder of this comeback at their household.

"I rarely give away game balls," Caruso said. "But I gave the game ball to my wife. She's as positive as they come and goes above and beyond the call of duty. She injected team with tremendous boost of positive energy. She deserves it."

Long travels pay off for Whitworth

There wasn't any jet lag for Whitworth after it traveled 1,346 miles from Spokane to Duluth in Saturday's 28-13 win over St. Scholastica. The Pirates got in to Minneapolis on Friday, traveled to nearby Bethel to do their walk-through before hopping on a bus to Duluth. After arriving in Duluth at 9:30 p.m., the guys ate, went to bed, woke up, did a short walk-through and weren't sluggish at all.

"They handled all of that situation really well and it went smoothly," Whitworth coach John Tully said.

Whitworth scored 28 unanswered points en route to the 28-13 win against the Saints, a playoff team from a year ago. Ronnie Thomas compiled a monster ground effort as he gained 161 yards on 32 carries and three touchdowns.

"Most of the game we played pretty well," Tully said. "We controlled the ball the whole first half, our punter did a great job, our defense played well."

It will be the first of three road trips for the Pirates as they will travel to Whittier on Saturday and then La Verne the following week before finally going home on Sept. 22 to host Chapman.

"Anytime you're forced to go on road first three weeks it's a real challenge," Tully said. "With St. Scholastica, we wanted to have that 10th game."

And the chance for the team to go to places they may never would otherwise experience. The Pirates toured the Mall of America in Bloomington before heading back to Spokane.

 "We do want to be able to have the players experience difference areas and different teams with different leagues," Tully said. "That's really healthy. It's healthy for us and healthy for our league. All of those are really positives."

Behind the number

727

yards gained in Willamette coach Glen Fowles’ debut, a 58-34 win over Hardin-Simmons. Quarterback Josh Dean threw for 468 yards and six touchdowns to lead the Bearcats.

Josh Smith photo

Josh Smith has covered Division III sports for more than five years. He writes for multiple publications, including D3football.com beginning in 2012. He has won multiple awards for reporting and photography and lives in southern Wisconsin near UW-Whitewater, where he graduated with a degree in print journalism.

2011-12 columns: Jason Galleske
2010: Tim Walsh
2003-09: Adam Johnson
1999-2000: Don Stoner 

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