Glenn Caruso had been the football coach at Macalester for two seasons when he was hired at the University of St. Thomas on Jan. 24, 2008. The first recruiting push he made was for Fritz Waldvogel, the dynamic receiver from St. Thomas Academy.
“Had you tried to recruit Frtiz at Macalester?” a reporter asked Caruso on Saturday.
Caruso smiled and said: “We weren’t going to get a player like that at Mac … not a kid from the Academy.”
That smile was about the only one Caruso could offer at midafternoon Saturday. The Tommies’ latest effort in the NCAA Division III playoffs had come to an end with a 34-31 loss to Wisconsin-Oshkosh in the quarterfinals.
The Titans were a team of creative formations and a depth of weapons. They had baffled St. Thomas’ stout defense in the game’s first 19 minutes to take a 24-7 lead.
And still in the end, it was St. Thomas that did itself in, with Alex Fenske suffering five interceptions and the Tommies losing three fumbles — eight turnovers to zero for the visitors. Fenske was the MIAC’s MVP this season and had four interceptions in the Tommies’ prior 12 victories.
“You can’t expect to win any game with eight turnovers,” Caruso said. “That was about three months’ worth for us in three hours.”
This was the seventh playoff season in Caruso’s nine at St. Thomas. It was the 18th playoff game at home and the second loss.
Losing a home game wasn’t the only blow for Caruso and his program to absorb. This also was the last game with a Waldvogel in the lineup.
Fritz Waldvogel started at the same time as Caruso in the fall of 2008. The Tommies were coming off a 2-8 season that had led to the coaching change.
Fritz started all 50 games over the next four seasons. The Tommies were 43-7, with three of those losses being season-enders in the playoffs.
Fitz had 46 career touchdowns and 10 of those were on kick returns. He was a two-time MVP of the MIAC. He was 5-9, 175 pounds and elusive to the point of absurdity.
Nick was following him through the Academy five years later. He was the same size and carried the family gene for making cuts through traffic on the football field.
“Fritz was such an unbelievable player; I didn’t feel pressure to be like that,” Nick said. “I just wanted to be a good player for the Tommies. I actually was a running back my first two years here ... a scat-back kind of role.”
There wasn’t much need for a scat back when the 2015 Tommies had Jordan Roberts, the Division III offensive player of the year, at running back. Waldvogel moved to receiver last year and had only sporadic appearances at tailback after that.
Nick started all 49 games in four seasons. The Tommies were 42-7, with another three of those losses being season-enders in the playoffs.
One more game and Nick could have equaled Fritz’s 50 starts. One win and he could have equaled Frtiz’s 43. One more win and the Waldvogels would have reached 100 games played for Caruso.
“We didn’t come close to playing our best today,” Nick said. “It’s tough to take when you know you should still be playing.”
Waldvogel was talking in a corridor after being involved in the Tommies’ postgame media session. This loss might have been even tougher to take for Nick if he watched a video of the game later Saturday.
Oshkosh had blitzed the Tommies with a 21-point first quarter, with touchdown passes of 46 and 38 yards to Sam Mentkowski on back-to-back plays. The junior receiver wasn’t on the two-deeps, but those were submitted at the start of the playoffs.
Mentkowski missed seven games because of a broken collarbone, and returned a week earlier in Oshkosh’s playoff victory over St. John’s. He’s the speed for the Titans, and finished with seven receptions for 184 yards and three touchdowns on Saturday.
Oshkosh finally had to punt with a 21-7 lead early in the second quarter. Nick took the punt at his 34 and made a 58-yard return of dashes and darts to Oshkosh’s 8. It was a return worthy of a place on the Waldvogel family highlight reel.
Except, there was a flag tossed and the return was reduced to 13 yards by a ridiculous block-in-the-back call by an official watching it from a bad angle.
The Tommies wound up losing a fumble at midfield on that possession rather than starting from the Oshkosh 8. Nick’s official totals in the last Waldvogel football game for the Tommies were six receptions for 91 yards, a rush for 4 yards and eight returns for 159 yards.
“We might not be done here as a family, though,” Nick said. “My sister Greta is a good senior basketball player at Visitation and the Tommies coaches have been talking to her.”