|Last year, St. Scholastica
was easily upended by St. Thomas in the first round of the
d3photography.com file photo by Scott Pierson
Winning the final regular season game, having the first place team lose and winning the draw to gain the conference's automatic qualifier. Those three things happened for St. Scholastica, helping it make the playoffs for a second straight year. The Saints stopped Minnesota-Morris 28-21, then Greenville beat Northwestern 27-16 to forge a three-way tie for the UMAC crown. Also, prior to the season, a newly formed three-way tie-breaker was discussed and implemented.
"Last March we discussed several ways to break a three way tie," Saints coach Greg Carlson said. "The scenario that we thought could never happen, happened. After a long discussion after different types of criteria, a commissioner randomly drew out of a hat. We couldn’t come to a consensus as a group, we simply had to go to a draw."
Despite the win by draw, actually out of a box rather than a hat, Carlson was confident his team would've gone if the conference went to a different way of breaking the tie.
"We looked at criteria from other conferences and I just felt we would’ve been chosen," Carlson said. "We didn't feel that we backed into this and we feel like a legit team and I am thankful that our name was picked in the right box."
Now begins the preparation for a second straight playoff appearance. The Saints, in their fifth year as a program, made the playoffs last year for the first time and fell 48-2 to St. Thomas in the opener. The preparation will stay the same for the Saints, but the experience may help them competitively this year in the second season.
"Eighty percent of our team that played in last year's game are going to dress in this game," Carlson said. "Those kids will be better prepared, not as many people will be distracted. We will have more kids that will be a little more grounded in this game for sure."
The Saints also get the benefit of an extra week which will also be used as a time of healing some of the injured players.
"This week off has been a bonus," Carlson said. "We're really banged up. It really helps us, because we limped into the games and this week allows us to heal up both mentally and physically to recharge the batteries. We're trying to stay off them physically. There are several players still nursing and rehabbing injuries -- we're trying to get them healthier if not 100 percent by next Tuesday (before normal practice begins)."
Defensively, St. Scholastica has been led by Zach Dubanoski, a four-year starter who is second in tackles with 70 and adds 4.5 sacks.
"He has been the catalyst," Carlson said.
Carlson also mentioned defensive back Alec French, who leads the team in tackles with 80 and also has three interceptions and two sacks. The kicking game has been solid as well as kicker Mike Theismann has connected on 11 of 12 field goals, including a game-winner in overtime against Presentation in the second to last game of the year.
Offensively, the Saints are led on the ground by Jake Jensen with 569 yards on 127 carries and four touchdowns and Thomas Fragale with 520 yards on 86 carries and four touchdowns. Quarterback Tyler Harper, in his first year as a starter after replacing D3football.com All-Region selection Alex Thiry, has completed 130-of-247 passes for 1,540 yards and 17 touchdowns. He has been intercepted eight times. His main target is Nick Thiry with 44 catches for 562 yards and seven touchdowns.
Another aspect the Saints did last season was improving on their non-conference schedule as they played Whitworth, who plays a solid Northwest Conference slate. With the UMAC qualifying for an automatic bid starting last year, St. Scholastica didn't have to worry as much about the 28-13 loss.
"Whitworth was a great opponent," Carlson said. "We thought that would be a good competitive game for us, so yeah I do think it helps us in the long haul."
And even may help in the recruiting game in the future.
"We're still a relatively young program," Carlson said. "We learned against St. Thomas, we're a long step away from being from that level. But now we had a 10-0 season last year that gave our guys credibility and being selected this year to be in playoff. Now maybe will be getting some of those kids that would go to St. Thomas or Whitewater or one of the top Division III schools. (This year) kind of erases 'Oh that was one time: That was a fluke.' Now, maybe some of those (undecided) kids will put St. Scholastica on their short list for visits."
Behind the number
Number of wins St. Scholastica has earned the last three seasons after winning five in their first two years as a program.