The "spark" came at just the right time Saturday.
A sense of unease hung over O’Shaughnessy Stadium at halftime. St. Thomas, with an 11-0 record on the line in the NCAA Division III playoffs, had dominated the first half with 312 yards and 14 first downs vs. 71 yards and two first downs for Monmouth. But the Tommies turned the ball over three times in the process and scoreboard read 10-10.
Thirteen seconds after intermission, Fritz Waldvogel provided what Coach Glenn Caruso called the “spark” when he returned the opening kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown and a 17-10 lead.
The Tommies (12-0) followed with three more touchdowns over the next 19 minutes and blanked Monmouth (10-2) in the second half for the second time in three years to cruise to a 38-10 second-round victory. They advanced to the quarterfinals for the third straight year and expect to host St. John Fisher, a 27-14 winner over Delaware Valley, on Saturday.
“It was perfectly blocked,” Waldvogel said of his 10th career kickoff or punt return touchdown, which tied a Division III playoff record for length of return. “I caught the ball on the right sideline and a huge lane developed. Give (tight end) Jon Nelson credit – he came in from the back side and got the kicker, and then it was a foot race from there. I like to think I can win those.”
Waldvogel’s scamper was one of a half-dozen big-yardage plays for the Tommies. They piled up 550 yards on offense – their third consecutive game over 500 yards – behind two career bests from running back Colin Tobin, who rushed 39 times for 258 yards
“You try to put it out of your mind, especially when you get in the red zone,” Tobin replied when asked if he got tired, especially after 25 rushes for 189 yards in the first half alone. “You’re a little winded, but you pull your strength from your offensive line.”
And those linemen “love” to block for Tobin, said junior center Curtis James. “He is so explosive. We have great chemistry. We’ve worked together for three years.”