High school football: St. Thomas Academy’s offensive balance shines in section semifinal win over Two Rivers

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St. Thomas Academy’s running game will always be centered on Savion Hart — rightfully so. The senior back is perhaps the best ball carrier in the state.

He was again Saturday, running 23 times for 202 yards and a pair of scores — while having another 100-plus yards called back by holding penalties.

But what’s different about this year’s Cadets offense is the numerous other ways in which it can beat you. Those were on full display in St. Thomas Academy’s 47-14 home victory over Two Rivers in the Class 5A, Section 3 semifinals.

Maximus Sims completed 12 of his 17 pass attempts for 165 yards and a touchdown pass to Luke Dobbs. Senior running back Niko Vargas ran for four touchdowns of his own. Tight end Chase Young was found over the middle for multiple strikes.

Hart said this is the most versatile offense he’s been a part of at St. Thomas Academy.

“We can have me do what I do with the blocks, and that’s great,” Hart said. “But then we have other players who do what they do, and it opens up. Maybe I’ll run this play, and it’ll open up the next play for another person.”

The Cadets (7-2) will host Bloomington Jefferson next Friday in the section title game. Their next two potential contests will be outdoors. As the weather worsens, Cadets coach Travis Walch noted St. Thomas Academy may have to lean heavily into that rushing attack.

But if the Cadets reach indoor football — which starts with the state semifinals at U.S. Bank Stadium — that passing option could be a legitimate weapon not previously available in their arsenal.

“You need to be able to do it all,” Walch said, “and I’m really happy with where we’re at and that we can disperse the ball all over the field.”

Frankly, the offense looks like St. Thomas Academy’s strength. And the outside perception probably would be that the defense is more gettable. St. Thomas Academy’s regular season was book-ended by a pair of disappointing defensive efforts in losses to Andover and Chaska.

But Walch loved the way the defense responded Saturday. Guys were challenged to have a hard focus, good eyes and good tackling. All three were solid against Two Rivers.

“Response is something we talk about with our program all the time. We can’t look back on what just happened,” Walch said. “I loved the response. What was really good for us is we saw a very similar-type approach. Kudos to our defense. I’m just really proud of the plan that was put in place.”

There were certainly cracks early, as Two Rivers (8-2) took the ball to start and claimed a 7-0 advantage on a 67-yard touchdown run by Ramzi Rislove. But the sledding got considerably tougher from there. St. Thomas Academy scored the game’s next 47 points.

“You want to get out ahead, and to have an explosive play like that was a great play call and great execution by our kids. … it gives you that good boost,” Warriors co-head coach Tom Orth said. “Unfortunately, we were not able to sustain on D.”

Prior to Saturday, the Two Rivers defense hadn’t given up more than 21 points in a game this season, and pitched two shutouts over its past three contests. But Orth credited the Cadets for their scheme and personnel. Two Rivers also played a lot of guys two ways, which leads to fatigue — particularly when it just played in a section quarterfinal against Hastings on Tuesday — and makes it difficult to make adjustments when key players are always on the field.

Saturday’s result was not the ending the Warriors envisioned, Orth admitted, but Two Rivers won eight games and a subdistrict title — feats not previously thought achievable over the past decade.

“Our guys battled their tails off the whole year, and they have a lot to be proud about,” Orth said. “A lot of credit to our seniors. We don’t have a lot of them, but those guys saw things through, and they’ve put the challenge to the guys behind them to continue with. So it’ll be exciting to see how they do that.”

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