ST. PAUL —It’s a magical time for sports in St. Paul right now as the volleyball team will compete for a state title on Saturday, and now the football team made the semifinals for first time in school history by defeating Aquinas 25-10 in the Class C-2 quarterfinals Friday night.
Coach Rusty Fuller said it’s a special feeling.
“I am just so proud of our team. They have wanted this all year, it’s been our goal,” he said. “They have always put unfinished business on the board.”
He added that after losing in the quarterfinals the last couple years, his team wasn’t satisfied with the way it finished. The players wanted to go further.
“Our boys knew that wasn’t good enough,” Fuller said.
Fuller said the win was a full team effort but saluted his offensive line and stellar defense for the victory.
“It was an all-around great job,” he said.
St. Paul’s stubborn defense and electrifying running game was too much for the Monarchs to handle. The Wildcats held a strong offensive team at bay and just allowed 10 points.
It’s only the second time all season that Aquinas scored less than 14 points.
“We have made teams one-dimensional all year only giving up like 300 yards rushing the entire season. That’s phenomenal,” Fuller said. “Credit goes to (assistant) coach (Chris) Smith, he had the defense ready to go tonight.”
The first half St. Paul dominated on both sides of the ball. Although they had some costly penalties, the Wildcat defense was able to keep the Monarchs at bay to prevent those mistakes from coming back and hurting them.
St. Paul was forced to punt it away on its first possession. A short punt gave Aquinas the ball on the Wildcat 35- yard line.
The Wildcat defense proved to be too much and put Aquinas in a position to try a field goal.
Aquinas missed the field goal attempt by Brian Cech.
St. Paul got the ball on its own 20-yard line and marched down field on a 35-yard run by Eli Larson to set up the first score of the night.
Larson had 92 yards on the ground in the first half. With 4:25 left in the first, Brenden Knapp found Tommy Wroblewski for a 35-yard touchdown pass. The PAT was no good, and the Wildcats led 6-0.
Wroblewski later had an interception in the third quarter, his third of the playoffs.
Aquinas did manage to get on the board in the first on a 27-yard field goal by Cech to make it 6-3 St. Paul.
On its first possession of the quarter, St. Paul got at 8-yard TD run by Jackson Seward. The PAT was good to make it 13-3. That’s where it stayed at the half.
The Wildcats ended the half with 169 yards of offense. Aquinas had 82 total yards.
Aquinas started off the third quarter with a bang, moving the ball 56 yards down the field on a Wildcat defense that hadn’t allowed much yards all night.
On th Monarchs’ first possession they did something they hadn’t been able to do thus far in the game — find the end zone.
After going for it on fourth down, Aquinas got a 17-yard run from Zach Pandorf, then QB Caleb Thege completed a 12-yard pass, his first of the night. On the next play, Kyle Napier ran it in from 6 yards out for what would end up being the only touchdown of the night for Aquinas. The PAT was good and suddenly St. Paul’s lead was shortened to three points, 13-10.
St. Paul would counter on a long drive of its own going 63 yards.
A 16-yard Jackson Seward TD run was negated by a penalty, then Fuller decided to go for it on fourth down. The move paid off as Trevor Dugan got the first down on 12-yard scamper.
St. Paul had four first downs in the drive, eventually making into the end zone on a 1-yard run by Seward. The score was his eighth rushing TD of the season and put St. Paul back to a commanding lead 19-10, after the missed 2-point conversion.
Seward had 15 carries for 67 yards and two TDs in game.
St. Paul scored one more time, in the fourth quarter on a 4-yard run by Eli Larson. He had 21 carries for 168 yards leaving him just under 2,000 rushing yards for the season.
Fuller said Larson is a special athlete and good person.
“He is a Division I athlete in my opinion,” he said. “His work ethic is tremendous. He works his butt off every single day. He wants to be good. And when you are humble kid with a tremendous work ethic, special things are going to happen.”
Fuller quipped he’s also glad he has Larson for one more year.
“I’m happy he’s only a junior,” he said.
Fuller said he knew Aquinas would be a worthy adversary, and he has nothing but respect for their team and head coach Ron Mimick.
“The tradition that they have and what he (Mimcik) does with those kids year-in and year-out, I have a ton of respect for that man,” Fuller said. “He’s one of the best coaches in the entire state and that’s the main reason he’s successful year-in and year-out — he gets the best out of his kids.”
St. Paul continues to be unbeaten at 11-0 and Aquinas Catholic ends its season at 8-3.
No. 1-rated St. Paul will travel to No. 2 Oakland-Craig next Friday night with the winner moving on to play for the state title.