|Defense ruled the day, as St. Thomas held UW-River Falls below 100 yards in the second half.
Photo by Ryan Coleman, d3photography.com
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RIVER FALLS, Wis. –- Second-ranked St. Thomas survived an uneven, penalty-plagued performance to overcome stubborn UW-River Falls 25-7 Thursday night at Ramer Field.
The Tommies (2-0) scored easily on their first possession with a quick four-play drive, but struggled thereafter to find their rhythm on offense. They played stingy defense deep in their own territory to twice keep the Falcons (0-2) at bay in the fourth quarter.
The win was the 36th consecutive regular-season victory for St. Thomas and sets up a Sept. 21 showdown with archrival St. John's at O'Shaughnessy Stadium. The Tommies' last loss in regular season was in October 2009 at St. John's.
UST's defense recorded five sacks and helped keep the Falcons' top receiver, 6-7 Charles Dixon, without a catch. The Toms limited the Falcons to 62 second-half total yards. That helped overcome the Tommies' two lost fumbles and seven penalties for 70 yards. One of those penalties negated a short TD run, and UST came away with no points on that drive.
St. Thomas had a 438-244 advantage in total offense, led by Matt O'Connell's 260 passing yards. That included River Falls' 72 net rushing yards on 34 carries after the sacks were factored in.
Quick Start, Then Stalls
The Tommies opened scoring as they did in their home opener against UW-Eau Claire – quickly.
O'Connell hit wide receiver Dan Ferrazzo with a 42-yard pass down the middle on the first play from scrimmage, and three plays later wide receiver Dan Noehring took a reverse pitch for a 19-yard touchdown run. Fullback Dominic Truoccolo handled the PAT snap and ran it in for two points and an 8-0 St. Thomas lead with only two minutes gone in the game.
The Tommies advanced into River Falls territory on their next two drives but came up empty-handed both times. Running back Jack Kaiser, following runs of four and nine yards and a 26-yard reception, fumbled at the Falcons' 36 and the home team recovered.
After forcing a punt, St. Thomas moved from its 23 to the River Falls 1, but a holding penalty negated a one-yard Kaiser touchdown run. UST's fake field goal was stopped short of the goal.
St. Thomas extended its lead to 15-0 on its next series, taking advantage of excellent field position after a 14-yard Noehring punt return to go 43 yards in five plays. Kaiser got his touchdown on this drive, from three yards out.
River Falls broke through late in the first half with a 10-play drive; all 73 net yards came via passes from sophomore quarterback Ryan Kusilek. He converted three consecutive third-down tosses, including a 4-yarder to Jordan Christianson for the touchdown with 1:18 remaining.
Waldvogel a Spark
St. Thomas' offense remained sluggish at the outset of the second half, losing the ball on another Kaiser fumble and forced to punt after a holding penalty, but got a spark from freshman running back Nick Waldvogel on the next series.
Waldvogel accounted for 46 of the Tommies' last 49 yards on the 65-yard drive, starting with a 19-yard reception and ending with a 10-yard scamper up the middle for the touchdown and a 22-7 lead.
River Falls recovered an onside kick at St. Thomas' 45 and drove to the 17 but the Tommies held on downs and took the ball over. The Falcons again drove deep into St. Thomas territory, to the 28, on their next possession but again were stopped on downs.
St. Thomas finished the scoring with a 41-yard Paul Graupner field goal with less than three minutes remaining in the game. The kick was one yard off Graupner's personal best last year.