Battle between St. Thomas and Augsburg Could Be a Season Ender for One
Usually when two teams meet that are 1-1 in their conference, there is not a lot of hoopla and hyperbole being said about the game, but this week’s contest between St. Thomas University and Augsburg College may be the exception. The Tommies will be welcoming the Auggies to St. Thomas this Saturday with Augsburg posting a record of 2-2 and St. Thomas at 3-1. The Tommies are 21st in the AFCA coaches’ poll and 25th in the D3Football.com site. This would seem to be nothing more than a typical contest between the two Twin-Cities rivals.
What makes this game so special is that both are 1-1 in the conference, meaning that the loser of the game may be eliminated from the race for the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) crown. While that may seem a little absurd this early in the year, the play of Bethel University, Gustavus Adolphus College, Concordia College and St. John’s University make this a must win for both teams.
Currently both Bethel and GAC are 3-0 in the conference, and the Cobbers and the Johnnies are both 2-1. Each of those teams have games this weekend that they should win. That will mean that the loser of this game will likely be 2.5 games behind the Royals and the Gusties by Saturday evening. That is a mountain that is simply too big to climb for the loser, and therefore makes this a must-win game for both.
In many ways these two teams are quite evenly matched. Augsburg is fourth in the MIAC in total offense, while St. Thomas is third with a 195 more total yards. Augsburg is third in total passing yards, while St. Thomas is fourth, and the Tommies are third in total rushing yards, while the Auggies are fifth.
While the two offenses are very evenly matched, it is on defense where there is a significant difference. The Tommies lead the MIAC in scoring defense with just 48 total points allowed in four games. They are second to Bethel in yards allowed per game at 251.0. The Tommies are on the upper end of the conference rankings on defense, however, the Auggies are near the bottom. They are eighth in yards per game allowed at 419.5 and rank second from the bottom in average points allowed per game at 38.5.
While these numbers are on the mediocre side, it should be considered that Augsburg has faced three of the better offenses in Division-III college football in Concordia (WI), Wartburg and Gustavus Adolphus. To those two teams they gave up a combined total of 140 points. In their other game they gave up just 14 points. The Auggies have a good defense and that group should not be underestimated.
On offense the Tommies are led by QB Matt O’Connell. O’Connell is sixth in the conference in passing yards with 616 yards, but he has proven to be very accurate with his passes, ranked second with 63.7%. In addition to his passing totals, he has also rushed for 218 yards, ranked second on the team. On the ground Jack Kaiser has led the way with 267 yards and a gaudy 6.1 yards/carry average. Along with O’Connell and Brenton Braddock, Kaiser is one of three backs that have at least 200 yards rushing this season, making for a very well-balanced attack.
On defense St. Thomas has one of the most experiences groups in the MIAC, led by linebackers Rutger Heffelfinger and Cavan Metzler. Heffelfinger leads the team with 26 tackles, and Metzler is second with 23 and he has forced two fumbles. CB Mozus Ikuenobe has proven to be one of the most versatile defenders in the league. He has 12 tackles, a sack, and five pass break-ups. He is one of the best cover corners in the conference.
The Auggies are led by junior QB Ayrton Scott, who is second in the conference with 1067 total yards passing and 10 touchdowns. His passing yards rank him second in the MIAC, but he is also a dangerous runner as well. Scott has 385 yards rushing, which ranks him third in the league. Jerise Washington is the Augsburg running back, and he has 368 yards, just 17 behind his quarterback. Combined the two make one of the most dangerous 1-2 combinations of any offense in the conference. Scott’s favorite targets are Hunter Friesen and Joey Sonnenfeld, who have combined for 48 total receptions, 693 yards and seven TDs.
On defense junior Bryce Nelson seems to always be in the action, posting 31 tackles, including two for loses. Three other juniors join Nelson in making a very solid group. Alan Medina-Gonzalez has 27 tackles, a sack and an interception. Denzel Anderson adds a pick and 25 tackles and Mykar Groves has a forced fumble to go along with 22 tackles. The four juniors bring a lot of experience to a group that is looking to make a statement about how much potential this team truly has.
Both of these teams have potent offenses, so it will fall on the defenses to come up big in the contest. Clearly the Tommies have the better defense on paper, and it will be imperative that they contain Scott to ensure victory. If this becomes a shootout, that may actually favor the Auggies. For Augsburg they are going to need their defense to step-up and control the ground game of the Tommies. If they can hold St. Thomas to under 24 points they have a very good shot at winning this game.
By Robert Pannier