St. Thomas finally overcomes Johnnie magic

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By Pat Coleman

Tommies rush the field
Tommies fans rush the field at the end of the game, the first win for St. Thomas against St. John's since 1997.
Photo by Ryan Coleman,
More photos from this game.

COLLEGEVILLE, Minn. – St. Thomas needed a little magic of its own to overcome St. John’s decade-plus of dominance in the teams’ rivalry, and got it as Jimmie Mattson’s extra point clanked off the left upright in overtime. That play, after Ben Wartman had scored on a 10-yard run to open the extra period, left No. 4 St. Thomas a 27-26 victor in overtime.

It snapped a 13-game losing streak for St. Thomas (5-0) in the series, which the Johnnies (3-2) now lead 49-29-1. St. Thomas hadn’t won in Collegeville since 1986 and hadn’t beaten St. John’s at all since 1997. And as more than a thousand St. Thomas fans stormed the field, nearly all of the 16,421 fans in the announced crowd had to be stunned at the way the game ended.

“It’s not conventional, nor is it how we drew it up, but as coaches you have to take what comes to you,” said Tommies coach Glenn Caruso.

No. 19 St. John’s had gotten to overtime thanks to a similar stroke of luck, as the Tommies’ Tim Albright had a PAT hit the right-hand upright in regulation, leaving the game tied at 20. St. John’s had a chance to win in regulation, but Ryan Deitz dove and picked off a Joe Boyle pass at the Tommie 22 to end the drive.

“They had about a minute left and they were driving on us,” said Deitz. “Expecting a run and they came out with a pass and kind of just reacted on it and made a diving grab. We game-planned on it all week so I was excited to make the play.”

This was nearly the lasting image of the game: Tim Albright's reaction to missing an extra point with 3:27 left that would have given St. Thomas the lead.
Photo by Greg Kremer,

“I felt entirely comfortable lining up for that PAT,” said Caruso, “and obviously we missed it, but I also felt entirely comfortable as they were driving up the field. Our defense is very good – we give up yards but we don’t give up many points. I thought at least we would have a field goal attempt (by St. John’s). ... When the opportunity arose our guys made a play on it and helped us win.”

St. Thomas gave away three opportunities to score in the first half. The Tommies had a first down at the Johnnie 16-yard line on their first possession of the game but three inside runs by Wartman picked up just 6 yards. Tim Albright’s 27-yard field goal attempt sailed wide right, ending a 10-play drive.

On the Tommies’ second possession, St. Thomas took advantage of a personal foul penalty to get into Johnnie territory and a swing pass to Fritz Waldvogel to get a first down at the 25. But Billy Lawrence intercepted a pass at the 15-yard line as Tracy well underthrew tight end Logan Marks.

On its third possession, St. Thomas started with decent field position on its own 34-yard line and quickly got into Johnnie territory once again as Tracy ran up the left sideline, breaking a tackle on the way to a 37-yard gain. But on the next play, Wartman fumbled and the Johnnies recovered.

On that last drive, St. John’s was unable to pick up a first down and the Johnnie punting game, which had avoided disaster so far despite two bouncing snaps, uncorked a 17-yard punt that went out of bounds at the Tommie 47-yard line. St. Thomas took advantage with a quick three-play drive, as Tracy hit Ricky Margarit with a 39-yard floater for touchdown to tie the game at 7-7. The teams traded fumbles and Mattson hit a 26-yard field goal to give the Johnnies a 10-7 lead shortly before halftime.

“Pretty disgusted,” said Caruso when asked to describe how he felt about the offense in the first half. “I thought the effort overall on the offensive side was subpar. We told our kids very simply, ‘you just gave them every opportunity to pull away, and yet it’s a three-score game and we have the ball coming out.’ We’ve been in these games before, we had one last year exactly like it. That’s what experience gives us. It doesn’t entitle us to anything, but it does give us a benchmark.”

The first Tommies drive of the second half wasn’t much better, ending with a holding penalty, a sack and a 29-yard punt that went out of bounds at the Johnnie 37. St. John’s got down to the Tommie 28 before facing a fourth-and-1. Quarterback Joe Boyle and running back Jakob Reding ran into each other on the exchange and the ball turned over on downs. After Fritz Waldvogel took a short pass for a 21-yard gain, the Tommies kept the ball on the ground the rest of the way, helped along by a late hit against St. John’s to get the ball to the 9. From there, Tracy ran for 5 yards and Wartman took it the rest of the way to the end zone, giving the Tommies their first lead, 14-10, with 2:25 in the third.

St. John’s continued to have success rushing the ball, keeping it on the ground including back-to-back runs by Boyle of 14 and 12 yards, the latter ruled a touchdown as the ball came out in the end zone. The Johnnies got the ball back after Tracy and Waldvogel bobbled the exchange on a reverse and tacked on a 32-yard Mattson field goal to make the lead 20-14.

But that’s when Wartman came back out and had it all put together. He’d rushed for 40 yards on his first touch of the fourth quarter, before the Waldvogel fumble, and chewed clock and yards.  Wartman accounted for 25 yards on eight carries and Tracy added 16 yards on the ground and 16 yards passing as the Tommies tied the game at 20-20, setting up Albright’s failed extra point with 3:22 left.

Ryan Deitz, Holy Grail
Ryan Deitz holds the Holy Grail, a trophy recently introduced into the rivalry, as if it needed one. As you can see, lower right, it's completely unengraved.
Photo by Ryan Coleman,

“We were confident that we could come out and whatever need be,” said Tracy. “If we need to come down and score in regulation or if it was going to overtime, we were confident we would come out and run our base stuff and we knew that our offensive line would put us in good situations and we had Ben Wartman out there that ran well for us.”

Wartman finished with 154 yards on 28 carries, including all 25 yards in the overtime.

“He was a little rusty in the first half and I think that he needed to knock that rust off, so to speak. ... Overall it was good to see him back in there, and I think as the rhythm and flow of the game started to come together he got stronger,” said Caruso.

Tracy completed eight of 13 passes for 114 yards and a touchdown, including six passes for 65 yards to Waldvogel. But he ran for 99 yards on 16 carries as well. “We had to come out here and just focus on each and every play and fight for first downs,” Tracy said. “Sometimes I felt like my legs could do it. Sometimes I’d tuck and run.”

It seemed like the Tommies needed Tracy’s legs more than his arm, but Caruso disagreed: “It was neither. It was his heart. He’s a 5-10 kid who plays with the heart of a giant. Sure, he ran the ball well, but we win some games because of arms and legs but the University of St. Thomas wins a lot more games because of minds and hearts, and that’s what Dakota is. That’s why I’m very excited to have him as the leader of the offense.”

Boyle completed 16 of 24 passes for 168 yards and a touchdown for St. John’s and was tied for the team lead with 55 rushing yards, on eight carries. Stephen Johnson also had 55 yards on the ground.

Deitz had 10 tackles to go with his interception for the St. Thomas defense, while linebacker Tony Danna had 12 total tackles.

The win gave St. Thomas one of the pieces it missed last year in its run to the national quarterfinals, a win against its archrival. “It feels great,” said Caruso. “I don’t want to say it’s the end-all, be-all, for this program. This game never has been and in my opinion it never will be. But it’s an awfully nice victory to get; it’s a necessary step in the process in our journey. ...

“I’ll take hard work over magic any day.”

Postgame interviews below: