When the snow began to pile up on the turf at O'Shaughnessy Stadium, Colin Tobin felt a little nostalgic. He and his friends used to love playing snow football on Thanksgiving Day, when the biting wind, the poor visibility and the slippery footing made it all the more fun.
The stakes were considerably higher Saturday as St. Thomas opened the NCAA Division III playoffs against St. Scholastica. That didn't matter to Tobin, who rushed for 206 yards and three touchdowns to power the No. 3 Tommies to a 48-2 victory. On a day when the field -- and the 1,350 fans -- were completely covered in snow, the Tommies (11-0) dominated with three third-quarter touchdowns and a defense that yielded only 73 total yards.
In its first-ever playoff game, St. Scholastica (10-1) took a 2-0 lead with a safety on the opening kickoff. But the Saints' offense, which scored 45 points per game in the regular season, could get nothing going on the ground or through the air. They earned just four first downs -- with two of those coming on St. Thomas penalties -- and managed only 14 rushing yards against the second-best run defense in Division III.
St. Thomas coach Glenn Caruso may have been the only person in the Twin Cities who actually hoped for bad weather. With the rugged, reliable Tobin carrying the ball, and with the defense's ability to stop the run, Caruso thought the snow might work in his team's favor. The Tommies dealt with it well enough to earn a second-round game Saturday against Monmouth (Ill.), which is expected to be held at St. Thomas.
"I loved the way we handled the weather,'' said Caruso, whose team won its playoff opener for the third consecutive season. "We're 8-0 in bad-weather games, and I think that's a function of our mental toughness and focus.''
The Tommies were not locked in from the start. As Kyle Whitley tried to field the opening kickoff, the ball bounced off his hand. He chased it into the end zone, where the Saints pounced on him for a safety just 12 seconds into the game.
Tobin said the Tommies fought a sharp north wind that pelted their faces with snow, and they had a hard time keeping their cleats free of icy buildup. The field markings also were obscured by the collecting snow, and players gathered around portable heaters on the sidelines.
Tobin found another way to ward off the chill. He ran for 45 yards on the Tommies' first drive, finishing it off with a 2-yard touchdown. As St. Scholastica bottled them up through the rest of the quarter, Caruso considered using more passing plays, but he decided it was best to stick with the running game and have faith it would get rolling.
It did, as the Tommies ran for 95 yards and two touchdowns in the second quarter. They finished with 364 rushing yards and ran for all six touchdowns.
In an emotional postgame meeting, St. Scholastica coach Greg Carlson praised his players for all they gave to a program that began in 2008. The Saints finished 1-7 in their first season; over the past two years, they built a 14-game winning streak that ended Saturday.
"I can't thank these kids enough for what they've done,'' he said. "I love them dearly.''