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Four minutes into the second quarter it appeared that the Saint Scholastica football team had its hands full against the quick-striking Westminster Blue Jays.
It was Saturday afternoon, and the Saints had the perfect Trick or Treat combination. Quarterback Kyle Stepka and wide receiver Hunter Thompson were responsible for the bag of tricks that led to an eye-popping treat for the Saints fans at Public Schools Stadium.
The Saints had pulled ahead 21-12 in the second quarter on Stepka’s second touchdown pass, when the Saints got the ball back. Suddenly, Thompson was sprinting behind the Westminster defense, and easily ran under a Stepka pass. He even had time to glance back at the nearest defender before completing a 71-yard touchdown play.
Was it a trick play sensed by Saints coach Kurt Ramler?
“No, that was one called by our quarterback,” said Ramler, a former quarterback at St. John’s. “We call it ‘License to Thrill,’ and we tell everyone that if you see something out there that you think might work, tell us. Kyle said the defensive backs were crowding up, and he thought this one might work.”
After trading touchdowns with Westminster, the Stepka-to-Thompson bomb ignited a 27-point second quarter en route to a 48-12 Saints victory over Westminster.
The victory sent the Saints onward and upward to a perfect 8-0 record and at least a share of the outright UMAC championship, and sent Westminster back home to Missouri at 5-3 and with no chance to catch the Saints.
The Saints won for the eighth straight time following an opening nonconference loss at Ripon, and also earned the conference’s guaranteed spot in the NCAA Division III playoffs, as they head for Greenville this Saturday.
“We’re good people up here, and we like to share,” said Saints coach Kurt Ramler. “But not the trophy. We hope to go down to Greenville and secure the title outright.”
Stepka’s first of four touchdown passes went to Mitch O’Neil, a 27-yarder that gave the Saints a 7-6 lead after one quarter when the Blue Jays got the tying touchdown, but not the tying extra point. In the second quarter, Chris Gassert ran 13 yards for his first of two touchdowns and a 14-6 lead, but again Westminster countered with a touchdown and a failed conversion.
Right about then, however, it seemed that everywhere Stepka looked, he saw either a wide-open receiver or someone open enough to throw the ball to, and the junior from New Prague directed three more touchdowns, all of which were unanswered.
For the game, Stepka set a St. Scholastica record with 453 yards and four touchdowns as the Saints compiled 685 total offensive yards. Nick Mrphy also caught a touchdown pass, and the Saints scoring was capped when Mike Mensing hit Tyler Meany from 11 yards out in the fourth quarter.
With so many receivers catching so many passes, it was difficult to realize that Thompson, a 6-foot-3 sophomore from Buffalo, MN., had racked up his own record. Thompson’s two touchdown passes were among 10 catches he had for the game, for a school-record 297 yards. Many of his catches were in congestion, but he also proved he could outrun the coverage with his 71-yard play, and when he hooked up again with Stepka for a 31-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
“Hunter was a tailback in high school, and he’s a great athlete,” said Ramler, the Saints second-year coach. “He also ran track and played basketball. But I’ve never seen anyone as wide-open as he was on that 71-yard touchdown. He had 200 yards receiving in the first half.”
Ramler also has stressed that the Saints defense has been the understated backbone of his team’s success all season, and while Westminster quarterback Eain Roberts caught the Saints by surprise a couple of times in the first half, it provided a good teaching moment or two.
“Westminster came out hard and challenged our defense, so we saw some things we have to do better,” said Ramler.
Northwestern, beaten two weeks earlier by the Saints, is second in the UMAC at 7-1, and defeated Greenville 21-19 last Saturday. The Saints had to beat Greenville to win the title, so Ramler is aware of how tough a game awaits the Saints Saturday. The outright UMAC crown, however, also awaits the Saints.