St. Thomas and Sanborn were two fairly evenly matched teams last season. In fact Sanborn made the playoffs and St. Thomas did not. But that was last year and this is this year. Clearly they are no longer an even match up, as St. Thomas clobbered Sanborn 48-0 on Saturday on a hot, muggy afternoon.
St. Thomas returns 19 starters. One of the few positions where there's a new starter is at quarterback. How did junior Stephen Hedberg do in his first career varsity start? He was 7/8 passing for 199 yards, 3 touchdown passes and 0 interceptions. He completed passes to 6 different receivers and also rushed for 26 yards and 1 TD. Hedberg did all of that in just 1 half of football, because his team was up 42-0 at halftime so St. Thomas sat their starters the whole 2nd half. Did I mention it was Hedberg's first career varsity start at QB?
"This was definitely a confidence boost" said Hedberg, who beat out Trevor Martin for the starting QB spot even though Martin was the starter the past 2 years. "I put in a lot of work over the summer, because I knew me and Trevor would be battling it out."
Hedberg didn't wait long before getting the Saints on the board. Cam MacNeil fumbled the opening kickoff for Sanborn, and it was recovered by St. Thomas. That gave STA the ball on the Sanborn 24 yard line. Then on the game's first play from scrimmage Hedberg zipped a pass over to Charlie Pollack on a slant route. Pollack raced to the end zone for a 24 yard TD pass. The PAT was no good, and just 20 seconds into the game it was 6-0 St. Thomas.
"Hedberg made great decisions with the ball" said St. Thomas head coach Eric Cumba, a former starting offensive lineman and captain at UNH. "The team competed well. They gave 100% the whole time, regardless of the score."
So just 20 seconds into the game we saw STA force a fumble on special teams and we saw their explosive, quick strike offense put a TD on the board one 1 play. How about their defense? Well, on Sanborn's first play from scrimmage QB Christian Ehlers was brought down in the backfield by St. Thomas lineman Joshua Carlisle before he was ale to hand the ball off for a loss of four yards. Martin made a good hit on 'D' on 3rd and 12, and Sanborn was forced to punt.
"We have 10 starters back on defense" said Coach Cumba. "We have a very good defensive line, they did a good job of stopping the run."
St. Thomas took over on their own 30 yard line. Again we saw that explosive, quick strike offense on display. Hedberg completed a short pass to Ryan Bennett, who took it 70 yards to the house. St. Thomas was spreading the Sanborn defense out and taking advantage of their speed and bevy of offensive weapons. Sanborn missed some tackles on that TD. Hedberg connected with Nate Grunbeck for the 2 point conversion, and it was 14-0 STA with 8:44 left in the 1st quarter.
Sanborn was finally able to get some momentum on their ensuing possession. Ehlers hit teammate Justin Winsper for a 1st down completion. Then Ehlers ran for a 14 yard gain and another 1st down, thanks in large part to a great block by Zach Matthews. But then Sanborn's Matt Layman suffered an injury and had to be carted off the field, and then Martin delivered another bone crushing hit on 'D'. Sanborn was again forced to punt, and the kick was partially blocked by the Saints' Kevin Gray.
Then the St. Thomas explosive, quick strike offensive went back to work. Tommy Bennett caught a short pass from Hedberg and broke loose for a 34 yard gain. Then Pollack took a handoff and ran 30 yards to the end zone, his second TD of the game. The PAT was good by sophomore kicker Nick Guilfuchio, and it was now 21-0 STA with 3:45 left in the 1st quarter.
"The Bennett brothers are 2 of the more explosive players we've had here in awhile" Cumba pointed out. "When you can hand it off to 4 or 5 different kids and know they'll produce - it's a good spot to be in."
A Sanborn 3-and-out, then came the end of the 1st quarter and a 45 minute delay due to Thunderstorm warnings in the area. Once play resumed Hedberg connected with Pollack for a 14 yard pass, and then Hedberg ran in a 3 yard TD. Now it's 28-0 St. Thomas with 10:45 left in the 2nd quarter.
"It was tough for these kids to sit around for 45 minutes during that delay and then come back out and be just ash sharp as we were before" said Cumba. "But we came back out and kept playing well, that's a testament to our senior leadership."
Sanborn went 3-and-out on their next drive. Then what happened on St. Thomas' next possession? You guessed it, that quick strike offensive was again on display, putting up yet another quick touchdown. This time Hedberg made his best play of the game. He stood in the pocket, looked to throw, and just as he launched the ball down field he got absolutely drilled by a Sanborn defender. Despite taking a big hit, Hedberg was able to somehow put the ball right on the money, hitting Grunbeck for a 49 yard TD pass. Usually if a QB gets hit like that as he throws it, the ball might be picked off or at least it will fall short of his target. But not this time - a great play by Hedberg. Now it's 35-0 STA with 6:26 left in the 1st half.
"I was planning to throw it short" explained the 6-foot-3 Hedberg. "But as the pressure came I decided I'd have to throw it deep. I saw my friend Nate Grunbeck was open and I threw it to him. Being taller helped to get the ball up over the top of the defender."
Sanborn ball, and another 3-and-out. St. Thomas ball, and Ryan Bennett picks up 13 yards on a run. Then came a pair of long runs by Zach Knight which were called back due to holding. The Saints had a number of long runs called back due to holding. Overall they played a tremendous game today, but the one thing Coach Cumba will look to correct are those holding penalties. Hedberg picked up a 1st down run, and then Kevin Caneb ran in a 12 yard TD and now it's 42-0 Saints with 1:58 left in the 2nd quarter.
On Sanborn's next drive Jesse Quintero delivered a bone-jarring hit for STA. This is a fast, hard hitting defense with guys like Caneb, Dan Rogers, Martin, Pollack and Quintero all flying around hitting people. It was 42-0 Saints at halftime. We had running time the whole 2nd half. STA sat their starters the whole 2nd half, and Sanborn sat their starters for most of the 2nd half.
A great start to the season for St. Thomas, who have to be considered one of the favorites in D-II. The D-II title game last year was Portsmouth and Plymouth. But Portsmouth has moved up to D-I, and Plymouth graduated their four best players (Sullivan, Thomas, Kuehl and Reisert) who carried them to the title.