St. Thomas’ second straight one-sided victory, a 49-14 win over Marist on Saturday at O’Shaughnessy Stadium, has answered the question of how the Tommies would respond after a painful loss at Drake that put a major dent in their hopes of repeating as Pioneer Football League champions.
Just as they were at Stetson the previous week, the Tommies (6-3, 5-1 Pioneer) were strong in all phases of the game in extending their home winning streak to 30 games.
“It was a tough one, I’m not going to lie,” free safety Grif Wurtz said of the loss to Drake. “It was a tough Saturday night, a tough Sunday. But the big thing is — coaches stress it too — we can’t get hung up on it. We had four games after that, so we just had to learn from it and be the best team we can be by the end of the season.”
Offered starting left tackle Alec Rasmussen: “We all felt the emotions of that loss. For us to lose, it’s not something that is common for St. Thomas. So we went through the emotions, but knew we had a job to do that upcoming week.”
The Tommies rushed for 252 yards, with Shawn Shipman (122 yards and a touchdown), Hope Adebayo (71 yards and two touchdowns) and Gabe Abel (59 yards and a touchdown) all having big days.
Special teams contributed a blocked punt, and the defense picked off two passes while limiting Marist to 52 yards rushing.
“To see us grow on some of the positivity we had last week was good,” head coach Glenn Caruso said.
In particular, Caruso liked what he saw from quarterback Amari Powell, who made his second straight start after Tak Tateoka went down with a leg injury. Powell had a strong second half in the Tommies’ 38-6 win at Stetson and built on that on Saturday.
Powell completed 11 of 17 passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns, while also throwing an interception.
“Practice doesn’t make perfect,” Caruso said, “but with the way he practiced this week — he had a phenomenal week of practice — it doesn’t surprise me that he played really well. To see his growth throughout the last two-and-a-half weeks has been phenomenal.”
The Tommies are at their best when they can run the ball, and they followed up a 378-yard effort against Stetson with another strong performance.
“I think the last two weeks, as a group, we’ve been focused on giving our effort ‘to the echo of the whistle,’ as we say,” Rasmussen said. “Just finishing the play, giving it everything we’ve got for those four to six seconds every play.
“I think that has definitely been a contributing factor to our success the last two weeks as an offensive line.”
Adebayo averaged 11.7 yards per carry, Shipman 11 yards and Abel 8.1.
“It feels like we have three RB1s back there,” Rasmussen said. “They all come ready to go every single week. They’re all tough runners, which is something I can appreciate as an offensive lineman, continuing that mentality the O-line has into the backfield.”
The defense’s success came despite the fact that three key starters remain sidelined due to injury.
“Everybody is preparing like they are a starter,” said Wurtz, who has stepped in for injured starter Ryan Calcagno. “Injuries are going to happen, so it’s been really good to see some guys — especially on the back end — we saw Mitchell Schares play well today. And (Matt) Guggemos had that interception, so it was really fun to see.”
The Tommies put the game away early, scoring 21 unanswered points in the first quarter. Following an interception by cornerback Johnson Fallah, Powell completed a 41-yard touchdown pass to Colin Chase for a 7-0 lead.
Adebayo scored the next two touchdowns, running the ball in from the 1-yard line before breaking off a 43-yard touchdown run.
A 5-yard touchdown run by Abel gave the Tommies a 28-0 lead early in the second quarter. Marist got on the board before the end of the half, with quarterback Brock Bagozzi running the ball in from 11 yards out on fourth down.
The Tommies got the ball back with just over a minute to play in the half and found the end zone again for a 35-7 halftime lead. With five seconds to play in the half, the Tommies capped a 10-play, 75-yard drive when Powell connected with Andrew McElroy on a 9-yard touchdown pass.
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