Fritz causing fits in return game

Fritz Waldvogel, the St. Thomas wide receiver and kick returner, does not impose fear in his opponents with his stature: 5-9 and 165 pounds.

But put a ball in his hands and this shifty, pint-sized jukebox leaves opponents grasping at air.

Need proof? Waldvogel leads the league in all-purpose yards at 165.4. He’s essentially first in kick returns (only Bryce Vee from Augsburg who has returned one kick for 40 yards is in front of him) averaging 32.3 with two returns for touchdowns. With eight more punt returns than anyone else in the league he is fourth at a 14.9 average and two touchdowns.

Did I mention he also lines up at receiver? Waldvogel is near the top of every statistical category for receivers and that is impressive given the fact that two Tommie running backs are in the top four in rushing. Waldvogel averages nearly seven grabs a game for more than 82 yards and he has tallied four touchdowns on the season.

Does Waldvogel prefer one position to the other? “You have to treat them both the same because you have to have a mentality that every play you can score,” said Waldvogel. “I don’t prefer one over the other, just whatever is happening at the moment is the one I like best.”

The last two weeks have been especially impressive for Waldvogel as he has opened each game with a return for a touchdown. One week after a heartbreaking loss to rival St. John’s, Waldvogel showed there would be no hangover when they traveled to Carleton. His 74 yard kickoff return gave the Tommies a lead they would never relinquish in a bounce back victory. On Saturday, he did it again, taking Augsburg’s opening kickoff back 87 yards for a touchdown.

“It comes down to are you prepared when the opportunity arises,” said coach Glenn Caruso. “He’s very stalwart, consistent and a hard worker whose gonna be able to make the most of it.”

All these returns are drawing comparisons to another young returner in Minnesota who wears purple in Percy Harvin, but Walgvogel isn’t about to admit he emulates anyone in particular.

“I don’t pattern anybody, its just more instinctive,” said Waldvogel. “To get a return for a touchdown, you need the whole special teams unit and our guys are doing a great job blocking.”

As a sophomore, Waldvogel’s contributions have been more what you’d expect from a seasoned senior captain — his college career is 12 games. The Tommies have flourished this year exercising talent over experience.

“All the coaches do a great job preparing us for games,” said Waldvogel. “We are also a close group of guys who have a lot of faith in each other which helps us be pretty successful.”

Standing on the sidelines of the St. Thomas/Concordia-Moorhead tilt was the other Fritz on campus -- men’s head basketball coach and athletics director Steve Fritz.

The legendary coach is a large man standing 6-5 who has spent 42 years associated with St. Thomas.

Has Waldvogel taken over as the “Big Fritz” on campus?

“I don't think I am as popular as Coach Fritz,” said Waldvogel. “He's got more than 500 wins; I think he will always be the more popular Fritz around.”

“The story around here is, we don’t care if you’re 6-5 or 5-6 if your name is Fritz, we’ll take ya.” said Caruso.

Running in reverse

Central has averaged 39.2 points per game this year but it’s their defense that has really made a statement. The Dutch have surrendered just 64.6 yards rushing per game and twice have held their opponent to negative rushing yards. On Saturday, they held Buena Vista to minus-13 yards rushing in clinching at least a share of their record 30th IIAC conference championship.

CAL LUnges into first place

Cal Lutheran separated itself from the rest of the SCIAC on Saturday using a scary defense and lights out rushing performance by Brian Stuart to tame perennial power Occidental on the road. The defense grabbed four sacks, forced three turnovers, allowed only four rushing yards and one first down via the run. It marked the sixth straight game the opposition has been held to 14 points or less with the defense allowing just seven points to the Tigers—special teams gave up a punt return touchdown. Undefeated in conference play, the Kingsmen control their own destiny for a playoff spot.

Pipers grind one out

Hamline didn’t wow anyone on Saturday by being outgained 411-274 in total offense and 24-15 in first downs but they did manage to score touchdowns on offense, defense and special teams to beat Carleton 34-17. Hamline took a 10-9 lead to the break on Cory Olsen’s 39 yard interception return for a touchdown. The Pipers then used a short touchdown run, pass and field goal to take a 27-9 lead to the fourth quarter. Kevin Kramer’s 38 yard kickoff return sealed the victory and showed it doesn’t always take a stacked stat sheet to get the victory.

Two targets are better than one

Redlands quarterback Dan Selway threw for a season high 405 yards on Saturday and he relied on two main targets to do it. Brendan Barkate hauled in eight catches for 136 yards and Brian Putman hauled in nine catches for 124 yards. Even with 260 yards piled up neither player reached the end zone. The Bulldogs relied on four rushing touchdowns for a majority of the scoring.

New position, better result

Concordia-Moorhead converted their struggling quarterback, Andrew Larson, to running back this season and it’s paying dividends. Larson scored the Cobbers' only two touchdowns in their 17-14 victory over St. Olaf. He tallied 58 yards rushing on 21 carries and a touchdown and hauled in five passes for 94 yards and a touchdown.

Spreading it out

UW-Oshkosh quarterback Nate Wara threw for 358 yards and three touchdowns on Saturday and just about everyone got in on the action. Wara completed at least one pass to eleven receivers but Juston Wara was his favorite hauling in eight catches for 98 yards and two touchdowns. UW-Eau Claire only threw to four receivers but still brought home the victory 44-35.

Did you know:

• Puget Sound wide receiver Ross Zuhl burned the Linfield defensive secondary for 18 catches -- a school record -- for 185 yards and two touchdowns.
• Central punter Kurtis Brondyke averaged 49.4 yards on five punts, including a career-best 78-yarder. His previous long was a 76-yard boot at Dubuque in 2007.
• Wartburg defensive back Andrew Creary returned an interception 99 yards for a touchdown in the Knights’ 24-9 victory over Luther.

Game to Watch

St. Thomas at Bethel, Arden Hills, Minn.: 1:00 p.m.: In a game with playoff implications, the Tommies and Royals will battle for what will likely be a playoff spot. The Royals have two losses on the season both coming in the final seconds on a last second touchdown pass against Wheaton and a field goal at St. John’s. Both opponents were in the top 10 at the time of the defeat. St. Thomas, has their sole blemish to St. John’s in overtime and are looking for the win to seal a 9-1 season and be in a ripe spot for an at large bid. Both teams will grind it out on the ground with Ben Wartman leading St. Thomas and Logan Flannery carrying the load for Bethel. The team that performs better through the air should get the victory.

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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.

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