Caruso’s predecessor, Don Roney, was 0-fer against St. John’s, losing all 10 matchups in his tenure. The rivalry was as lopsided as it had ever been when Caruso arrived and he knew it was his responsibility to tip the scales in the other direction.
“There’s always pressure, said Caruso. “There’s pressure to beat lots of teams and St. John’s tops that list.”
In Caruso’s first attempt at ending what is now a 13-game skid to the Johnnies, he added a whole new chapter to the rivalry – controversy.
In a hard fought battle that came down to the wire, St. Thomas appeared to have broken the plane of the end zone on first and goal on Ben Wartman’s plunge for a 15-12 lead.
The officials saw it differently, saying the play went for no gain, setting up second and goal with only seconds remaining. Tommie running back Ryan McCarthy fumbled the ball and the Johnnies held on for the three point victory.
Pictures and videos of Wartman’s run led many to believe he had crossed the plane. Bottom line, Caruso was 0-1 against the hated Johnnies.
On Saturday, Caruso entered Collegeville for the first time as a head coach. He was leading a young, yet undefeated Tommie team who wanted to make a statement after last season’s loss.
“There was never any mention of last week’s game but you’d be crazy to think it wasn’t on their minds,” said Caruso.
The Tommies didn’t make that statement, at least not in the first three quarters. They played like a young team caught up in a rivalry that started long before any of them, or even their parents in the stands, were born. They fumbled balls, under-threw passes and missed tackles.
To their credit, they were still fighting as they entered the fourth quarter down 14-0. They turned a couple of Johnnie miscues into scoring opportunities. An 11-yard punt by St. John’s set up the Tommies on St. John’s 32 yard line. Quarterback Greg Morse, who struggled mightily on the day, found Anthony Margarit for a touchdown on the next play.
Four series later, the Johnnies botched a fake punt from the 50-yard line which resulted in the Tommies recovering the ball on the St. John’s 17. After six plays for short yardage, Morse found tight end Justin Friederichs for a 4-yard touchdown that closed the gap to 14-13 with 2.2 seconds remaining.
On the road, down one, with 2.2 seconds remaining and looking to end a 12 game losing streak to their hated rival, Caruso had a choice to capitalize on the momentum and go for two and the win or play it safe -- he played it safe.
“Of course it crossed my mind,” said Caruso about going for two. “It crossed my mind from the minute we picked up the bad punt snap but I thought it would be premature to put everything on one play. I wanted the kids to have a chance to decide it.”
Former Johnnie kicker Brady Beeson kicked the PAT to knot the game at 14-14 and push it to overtime -- the first overtime game played at Clemens Stadium.
The Johnnies defense which played huge all day held St. Thomas to a field goal and a 17-14 lead.
The Johnnies needed only four plays to cover 25 yards and when Kellen Blaser went horizontal for the pylon, the Tommies went down for the 13th straight time to St. John’s.
It was a classic rivalry game with momentum swings, big plays, an extra frame and two football minds battling for the victory.
Caruso’s second straight 3-point loss to the Johnnies was John Gagliardi’s 468th career win.
Johnnie-Tommie 2009 is in the books, but the rivalry is back on track and a postseason rematch is not out of the question.
“I’d welcome a win this week and I’d welcome a successful finish to the season,” said Caruso, not allowing himself to look past the here and now. “And if that happens, sure we’d love to play another game like that against St. John’s.”
Dubuque wide receiver Michael Zweifel broke the Iowa Conference record for receptions in a game with 20 and total receiving yards with 330 in a 36-33 victory over Simpson. He broke the receptions record held by Dubuque's Matt Plummer who had 18 receptions in a game on October 12, 1996 versus Buena Vista. Zweifel’s 330 receiving yards knocked Jim Henderson of Simpson and his 276 receiving yards on November 4, 1967 from the record book. He finished just shy of the NCAA record set with 23 catches for 332 yards by Sean Munroe of Mass-Boston against Mass. Maritime in 1992. Zweifel’s three touchdowns on the day covered 46, 35 and 16 yards.
Coe used a tenacious defense in the fourth quarter on Saturday to knock off Wartburg for the first time in seven years. The Kohawk defense owned the fourth quarter, forcing Wartburg quarterback Nick Yordi into turnovers on all four possessions late in the game. The first came as Coe senior Kyle Polich intercepted a pass at the Kohawk 37-yard line. On the first play of the next defensive series, freshman Frank Weymiller hit Yordi, forcing a fumble that sophomore Tyler Hemry recovered at the Wartburg 41-yard line. On the next series with third down and four, Yordi was picked off for the second time in the quarter, this time by Seth Johnson. On Wartburg’s final drive Coe’s Austin Lloyd intercepted Yordi at the Coe 42-yard line, putting the finishing touches on the 35-21 victory.
Making his first start this season, Cal Lutheran defensive back Brett Lewis made the most of the opportunity. The junior intercepted a Claremont-Mudd-Scripps pass and returned it 81 yards for a touchdown. Lewis also recovered a CMS fumble in the third quarter and made four total tackles including one for loss. The Kingsmen won 21-14.
Buena Vista wide receiver Eric Bertelsen was the model of efficiency for the Beavers on Saturday in their 24-17 victory over Cornell. The senior only caught two balls on the day but they just happened to be for 144 yards and two touchdowns. His first catch came on the first play of the game for 54 yards and a 7-0 lead for the Beavers. He hauled in a 90 yard pass in the third quarter that gave the Beavers a 24-10 lead and one they would not relinquish.
Augsburg wide receivers Mike Nourie and Muneer Al-Hameed both went over the 2,000-yard mark for career receiving yardage as the Auggies dropped Concordia-Moorhead 27-20 in overtime. With seven catches for 74 yards, a touchdown and a two-point conversion, Nourie now has 181 catches for 2,072 yards in his career, moving him into fifth place in school history in career receiving yardage and fourth place in career receptions. Meanwhile, Al-Hameed, a junior, collected seven catches for 80 yards and a touchdown, moving him to 164 career receptions (fifth place in school history) and 2,007 receiving yards (sixth place in school history).
• Cal Lutheran has now had an interception returned for a touchdown in all three of its home games this season.
• UW-Plattteville kicker Tony Smidl tied a school record for most field goals in a career at 28. His 44-yard field goal in the third quarter also marked a career long for Smidl.
• Augsburg snapped a nine game losing streak to Concordia-Moorhead and won for the first time at Jake Christiansen Stadium since 1994.
No. 6 Linfield at No. 17 Willamette: After last season’s 52-28 embarrassment at home, Linfield will likely enter this game at Willamette with a chip on its shoulder. Willamette wants to show last year’s performance was no fluke. Both teams enter undefeated in conference play and Willamette’s only blemish is from a season opening loss on the road to Concordia-Moorhead.
Linfield quarterback Aaron Boehme has the Wildcats hitting on all cylinders through the air while Willamette prefers more of a ground attack. With both teams averaging over 35 points this game should be a shootout. Look for the team that turns in the more dominant defensive performance to be victorious and on their way to the NWC crown.