Saint Thomas Academy football coach Dan O’Brien said at the outset of the season that there were two facets of his team’s game that needed to be addressed—the offensive line and defensive backfield.
“They were the two areas in which we were the youngest,” he said.
However, in two recent Cadet victories over highly regarded teams, those areas certainly appeared to be coming around.
In a thrilling 27-21 win in quadruple overtime against Mahtomedi on October 23, STA started two sophomores in its defensive backfield against a team with a dangerous passing attack. O’Brien said the two youngsters held their own.
“That was just a great high school football game,” he said. “I’ve never been involved in a four-overtime game since I’ve been coaching.”
The following week, STA came away with a 15-0 win over Apple Valley that saw both clubs battling it out on their front lines.
After a scoreless first half, O’Brien said his offensive line started to gain some ground. STA sophomore running back Love Adebayo scored two second-half touchdowns despite not being 100 percent because of a high ankle sprain.
“That game was a good win for us as well,” O’Brien said. “Apple Valley is a good football team.”
With two regular-season games left against Hastings (STA won 49-21) and Park, the Cadets have demonstrated that they are a force to be reckoned with. They were undefeated so far during this shortened season and were ranked No. 1 in the state in Class AAAAA.
Though the team had consistently showed good balance, it was also clear that defense was where it started for STA. After four games, the Cadets had 10 sacks to go with 28 tackles for losses, three safeties, two fumble recoveries and a blocked kick.
“That was just a great high school football game,” coach Dan O’Brien said. “I’ve never been involved in a four-overtime game since I’ve been coaching.”
Against the rush, the Cadets have held opponents to a negative 34 yards on 74 attempts. They also have allowed only 11 conversions on third down and one on fourth down while outscoring their opponents 123-35.
On the individual stat sheet, senior linebacker/defensive lineman Garrison Solliday is coming off an all-state season. He is equally adept at playing both inside and outside linebacker and also plays some offense. He has 32 tackles, including nine for losses, along with three sacks and a fumble recovery.
Senior defensive tackle Oscar Berg is a good run-stuffer as well and is having a fantastic year, O’Brien said, with 23 tackles and two sacks. “He’s disruptive. He gets a lot of attention,” the coach said.
Playing like a guy who’s been a starter for years is sophomore linebacker Jackson Cercioglu. He’s the team’s leading tackler with 38.
On offense, Adebayo has carried for four touchdowns in three games for 229 yards and was averaging 8.8 yards a rush. And he’s healthy again after his ankle sprain.
The Cadets also have senior workhorse Danny McFadden, who had seven touchdowns and a whopping 627 yards in four games, averaging 7.4 yards a carry. He had 223 rushing yards on 37 carries with two touchdowns, including the game-winner in the barnburner against Mahtomedi.
McFadden suffered a slight concussion the following week against Apple Valley and was slated to miss the November 6 contest at Hastings as a precaution, O’Brien said.
Senior quarterback Baker Redding has taken care of the football well and has shown good leadership qualities. He has thrown for 295 yards and two touchdowns so far this season.
Junior Grady O’Neill has been versatile, with nine receptions for 149 yards at wide receiver, while also carrying the ball and returning a kick.
O’Brien said his team is pretty healthy despite the recent injuries to his two main running backs. He added that his squad is trending in the right direction, and hopes to do well after the regular schedule ends this week.
Sections are supposed to start the week of November 16, with the season coming to a close just after the Thanksgiving holiday.
“We just need to keep working hard and learning as we go,” O’Brien said. “I still have some concerns about the offensive line and the defensive backfield, but we’ve shown that we’re improving in those areas.”
— Bill Wagner
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