Reusse: Tommies back in D-III football semifinals

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 1, 2012 - 9:31 PM

A century-old football connection helped St. Thomas' quick defenders dominate Hobart in the D-III quarterfinals.

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Hobart College started playing football in 1891. That was also the third season in which Pudge Heffelfinger, a Minnesotan playing guard for Yale, was named to Walter Camp's All-America team for the third time.

These long ago events in Eastern football intersected Saturday, when the Hobart Statesmen arrived at O'Shaughnessy Stadium to take on St. Thomas in the Division III national quarterfinals.

The visitors handed St. Thomas a pair of touchdowns in the first six minutes and were mostly futile against the rally-to-the-ball Tommies defense throughout the cool, gray afternoon.

The final was 47-7, and the Tommies advanced to the national semifinals for the second year in a row. They are expected to be the host for a Saturday game against Wisconsin-Oshkosh, which rallied to beat Linfield (Ore.).

The defenders assisting in the Tommies' domination included Rutger Heffelfinger, a sophomore from Edina. The aforementioned Pudge was Rutger's great, great uncle. Which means that college football has been in the Heffelfinger family tree for almost 125 years.

Rutger has shared linebacker duty this season with senior Mike Valesano. He had an important tackle for a loss when Saturday's game still was competitive. He also was on the field when Hobart's Steven Webb went 66 yards on a fourth-and-1 in the first quarter.

"Hobart's a running team,'' Heffelfinger said. "We came into the game determined to stop the run, and we really wanted to stop it on fourth-and-1. I didn't believe he would pop through the line and go all the way.''

That was it for Hobart on the scoreboard. Those 66 yards were almost half of the 140 that Hobart managed for the game. The Statesmen added some passing yards late in the game, so the offensive total of 294 yards was inflated.

"A lot of the success this program has had is built on defense,'' Heffelfinger said. "We got a great plan again this week from coach Kuchinski and we made it work.''

That is Wallie Kuchinski, the defensive coordinator who came in with Glenn Caruso in 2008. The new staff went 7-3 that season, followed by appearances in the D-III quarterfinals, quarterfinals, semifinals and again the semifinals since 2009.

St. Thomas is 13-0 this season despite a run of injuries. Caruso said only six of the 22 starters have been in the lineup for every game.

Some injuries have allowed others on this deeply talented roster to emerge as stars. Example A is running back Brenton Braddock.

Aaron Terrell-Byrd and Ryan Toney were the 1-2 running backs when the Tommies played archrival St. John's early in the season. Both had injuries that gave Braddock an opportunity. The 6-foot, 190-pound redshirt freshman has seized it, and then some.

''I probably was more certain of Brenton's ability than anyone,'' Dan Ferrazzo said. "We played football together in Mahtomedi starting in the seventh grade."

Two years ago, Ferrazzo was an option QB and Braddock was taking the pitches for Mahtomedi. They came to St. Thomas in the fall of 2011. Braddock suffered a broken leg and missed the season. Ferrazzo moved to receiver at his request.

"Matt O'Connell was another freshman quarterback,'' Ferrazzo said. "When I saw how good he was, I went to coach Caruso and said, 'I think I should try to be a receiver'."

O'Connell was sick with a bad stomach and up all night before Saturday's game, yet he found Ferrazzo for six passes for 103 yards. Ferrazzo also ran in a pair of two-point conversions as the holder.

Those four points were Ferrazzo's contribution to what was a 28-point afternoon for the Mahtomedi connection. Braddock had four short TD runs and totaled 23 carries for 94 yards.

"When I first started playing with him in the seventh grade, Brenton would get as far outside as he could, and try to outrun everybody,'' Ferrazzo said. "Now, he's got it all: great feet, great vision, and he runs tough.''

Braddock and St. Thomas chopped away for 23 first downs, causing the 100 or so Hobart fans congregated in the main stands to become increasingly quiet. This group included Paula Fields from Hopkins. Her son Michael is a sophomore and a tennis player at Hobart.

"At least we beat St. Thomas in tennis last season, during spring break,'' she said.

Revenge now belongs to the Tommies.

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500-AM. • preusse@startribune.com

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  • NCAA DIVISION III QUARTERFINALS ST. THOMAS 47, HOBART 7

    Up next: St. Thomas vs. Wisconsin-Oshkosh in semifinals • Saturday, time site to be determined

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