Division-III Football Playoffs: Wartburg College vs. St. Thomas University
Match-up: On Saturday at 1:00 PM Eastern Time the Wartburg College Knights (Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, 10-0, 7-0) will welcome the St. Thomas Tommies (Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, 8-2, 6-2) to Wavorly, IA for their first round matchup in the Division-III Football playoffs. Both teams are ranked in the latest D3Football poll, with Wartburg coming in at No. 5 and the Tommies at No. 20.
Coaches: The St. Thomas Tommies are led by Head Coach Glenn Caruso. Caruso is 65-23 in his seven seasons at St. Thomas. This is his fifth trip to the playoffs, and he has two trips to the quarterfinals and a 2011 trip to the semifinals. In 2012 he took the team to the title game losing to Mount Union.
Rick Willis is in his 16th season as the head football coach at Wartburg College. He has an outstanding career mark of 138-34, and this is his seventh trip to the playoffs. Willis has never had a losing season at the school, and the furthest his team has gone in the playoffs is the quarterfinals. This is his fourth time he had an undefeated regular season.
The St. Thomas Tommies were struggling to find an identity on offense for much of the season. QB Matt O’Connell was struggling at times, and so Coach Caruso turned to John Gould halfway through the Bethel Royals game. In the three games since the Tommies have put up 175 points.
This is the junior’s team to run now. Gould has proven he is more than up to the task, completing 69.2 percent of his passes, and throwing 14 touchdowns in just 117 attempts. He has just 1146 yards passing, but those numbers are only in three full games.
While the quarterback situation was being worked out, the running game has continued to blossom. Junior Jack Kaiser led the team with 654 yards rushing and he scored 7 touchdowns. What makes the junior so good is just one fumble in 103 rushes. Brenton Braddock is another guy who holds onto the ball, not coughing it up once in 107 carries, and he has 603 yards and 10 touchdowns. Last weekend against Gustavus Adolphus he grounded out five scores and rushed for over 200 yards. Sophomore Nick Waldvogel is getting more time as the season moves along, and with good reason. He is showing signs of greatness, with 471 yards in 10 games. There is no one back having a phenomenal year, but don’t be mistaken; the Tommies are going to move the ball on the ground.
Junior Charlie Dowdle has become Gould’s favorite target. The wide receiver has caught 42 passes for 581 yards and 11 touchdowns. Waldvogel has shown his versatility catching 28 passes for 285 yards and 3 touchdowns.
On defense is where St. Thomas really thrives. Senior linebacker Ruttger Heffelfinger is a straight up beast who led the team the team in tackles with 68. He is everywhere it seems, and will take on any ball carrier and usually wins. Safety Kyle Coyne is a great complement to the linebacker, because he is also a ball hawk who reads plays well. Koyne has 4 interceptions this season to go along with a sack and 43 tackles.
The Tommies defense only recorded 18 sacks, but they recovered 17 fumbles and made 8 interceptions.
Logan Schraeder has established himself as one of the best quarterbacks in Division-III football. The junior is second in the country in passer efficiency at 186.9, and he is the kind of leader that coaches love. The Wartburg Knights QB has thrown for 2574 yards and 27 touchdowns, with just 5 interceptions. He also has an outstanding 64.3 completion percentage.
Junior running back Brandon Domeyer is the kind of back that coaches love. At 6-1, 220 he has good size, and he is very difficult to bring down. Domeyer rushed for 854 yards and 14 touchdowns during the season.
Taylor Jacobsme is an outstanding wide receiver and Schraeder’s favorite target. He made 49 catches so far for 866 yards and 7 touchdowns. Robbie Anstoett did not make as many receptions as Jacobsme, but he made them count. He has 32 catches for 517 yards and 10 touchdowns.
On defense the Knights are led by junior linebacker Gunner Tranel. Tranel is everywhere it seems, finishing with 97 tackles, 2 sacks and 6 pass defenses/breakups. He has 58 solo tackles, which is a testament to his ability to read plays, get into position to make plays and tackle when he has the chance.
Hybrid lineman Zach Twedt led with 8 of the teams 23 sacks. The Knights made just 9 interceptions and 6 fumble recoveries.
St. Thomas: 501.4 yards per game. 45.7 points per game
Wartburg: 488.3 yards per game, 45.3 points per game
St. Thomas: 322.4 yards per game, 20.8 points allowed per game
Wartburg: 257.0 yards per game, 11.6 points allowed per game
Outlook: The St. Thomas Tommies are incredibly hot since John Gould took over, and Coach Caruso has them banging on all cylinders. Coach Willis has the Wartburg Knights just as ready. This is going to be a battle, and on what should be a cold day in Wavorly the team that is going to be able to run the ball best is going to win. The Knights simply don’t create enough turnovers. Take the Tommies in a slight upset, 27-24.
Tomorrow’s Previews on the Minor League Sports Report will look at:
Widener vs. Muhlenberg
Delaware Valley vs. Christopher Newport
Linfield vs. Chapman
Mary Hardin-Baylor vs. Texas Lutheran
By Robert Pannier