St. Thomas football coach Glenn Caruso didn’t like using the term on Saturday, but it really was the best way to describe what he had just witnessed.
Despite a dominating effort on defense, the Tommies won ugly, with enough going wrong to leave their longtime coach looking for answers.
After a sluggish first half that netted only 77 yards of total offense and a 7-3 halftime lead, the Tommies (3-1, 2-1 Pioneer Football League) responded with a pair of touchdowns in the third quarter and held on for a 20-13 win over Valparaiso before a homecoming crowd of 7,443 at O’Shaughnessy Stadium.
“We’ve got to find a way to learn quicker throughout the game,” Caruso said. “Three of the five games we’ve played, we’ve played a solid half.
“I understand that we’re new, and we’re playing new opponents, and we’re playing at a new level. But if we can’t start playing a good three to three-and-a-half quarters, it’s going to be tougher sledding than we need it to be.”
Caruso, who’s teams are built around the ability to run the football, acknowledged that he got on his offensive line at halftime, but said the running backs shared the blame for the inability to run the ball.
“It was probably more a function of the running backs,” Caruso said. “When you’re trying to win games in the manner we have to play right now, sometimes an ugly 4-yard gain on first down is good.
“The difference between the run game in the first half and in the second half was that we were able to get into second and fives and second and sixes. Instead of trying to make a home run out of a play that’s not there—we need to learn how to mitigate that.”
Caruso also gave credit to the offensive coaches, who made adjustments in formations to help the Tommies run the ball.
The Tommies led 20-6 in the fourth quarter and had the ball near midfield when quarterback Cade Sexauer was sacked and fumbled away the ball. Valparaiso quarterback Ben Nimz threw a 35-yard touchdown pass on the next play to make it a one-score game.
The Beacons got the ball back with just under five minutes to play with a chance to tie the game. On second down a Tommies defender jumped into the neutral zone right before the snap, and thinking he had a free play, Nimz threw the ball down the field.
His pass was intercepted by Isaiah Hall.
“We all thought we had a free play,’ said Valparaiso head coach Landon Fox. “You get them to jump off sides and you teach your center to snap the ball. (The officials) didn’t see it the same way.”
Sexauer struggled for the second straight week. Sexauer was pulled from last week’s loss at San Diego due to ineffective play, and he struggled again on Saturday. He completed 11 of 21 passes for 98 yards and threw an interception in the fourth quarter on a play when he should have thrown the ball away.
“Right now it’s just not flowing smoothly,” Caruso said. “It’s our jobs as coaches to find throws and scenarios where we can move the pocket around.”
Sexauer was affective as a runner, picking up 57 yards on 16 carries. He scored on a quarterback draw from four yards out early in the third quarter to give the Tommies a 14-3 lead.
Caruso said he didn’t consider replacing Sexauer, adding that he feels it was a mistake to take him out of the game last week.
“If it takes a team and an offense and a coaching staff time to get into a rhythm,” he said, “we’ve got to afford that same opportunity to our players.”