On a night the St. Thomas football team made history, Tommies coach Glenn Caruso offered some history of his own.
“I told the team at halftime,” Caruso said, “that that first half of football might have been the best we’ve played in my 14 years at St. Thomas.”
Never mind that the Tommies were down 17-3 to Northern Iowa, and would end up losing 44-3 in the UNI-Dome to their first Division I opponent.
The Tommies left with their heads held high, and with enough good moments captured on film against a team that was bigger, faster and more talented to consider the trip down Interstate-35 to be a success.
“I know that iron sharpens iron, and we are going to grow because we were tested,” Caruso said. “We’re not going to be a wallflower that sits back and doesn’t take on opportunities. We’re not going to be somebody who sits there and gets comfortable. That’s not who we are as a team or as a university.”
UNI coach Mark Farley praised the Tommies for scheduling a tough opponent in a tough environment, and came away impressed with what he saw.
“To me, they probably accomplished what they wanted to accomplish,” Farley said.
As lopsided as the final score was, the Tommies were competitive in the first half. The first quarter ended with the Tommies, trailing 10-0, facing a fourth and 2 at the UNI 32. Caruso elected go for it, and the gamble paid off as quarterback Tommy Dolan ran around right end for a first down at the UNI 27.
But on the next play, Dolan threw a deep ball into double coverage, and it was intercepted at the UNI 3.
St. Thomas’ offense was totally shut down in the second half. UNI had 386 yards in total offense to 105 for the Tommies. St. Thomas played two quarterbacks, Dolan and backup Cade Sexauer, and they combined for three interceptions.
Sexauer, who took over for Dolan in the second quarter and played the rest of the way, said the Panthers were bigger and faster than any team the Tommies have faced—as expected.
“We did some good things, and we did some things that weren’t good,” he said. “We just have to keep working.”
The Tommies hoped to be able to run the ball better than they did in their season-opening win over Michigan Tech, but it didn’t happen. St. Thomas rushed for 26 yards on 33 attempts.
The Tommies were much more competitive on the defensive side of the ball. Despite a significant size disadvantage along the line of scrimmage, the Tommies were able to put pressure on the quarterback and stuff the run on a number of occasions.
St. Thomas cornerback Joe Hird, who led the team with nine tackles (three solo) made an acrobatic interception, keeping a toe in bounds on a throw to the sideline.
Caruso said he was “wildly proud” of his defense. It left a lasting impression on Farley as well.
“They did some good things defensively,” Farley said. “In fact, they did some things that I might steal. They play to their strength; they’re undersized, but they shoot the linebackers.
“They’re unique in what they do and creative in what they do.”
Caruso elected to bring his entire roster on the road, so a couple dozen players watched from the sidelines in warm-up suits. It was done in the spirit of unity.
And it will always be a significant detail in the history of St. Thomas football.