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Irish Gridders Find Balance

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Irish Gridders Find Balance

By Tom Rowland

St. Thomas football coaches promised a balanced attack would be the name of the game this fall, and balanced it is — at least on the ground.

And now the Irish are readying for the next test of their new found versatility, at Ecorse St. Francis Sunday afternoon when Coach Leo Wagner’s charges seek their second straight Southwest League triumph.

Hopefully, the Green and White will present an encore of Saturday night's performance. The Irish stuck to good old terra firma and whipped Ypsilanti St. John, 20-13, in the season opener. All but one of the St. Thomas starting backs got into the scoring picture, and the lone exception — fullback Tom Schwind — was the workhorse of the Irish off-tackle running attack with 78 yards on 19 carries.

Quarterback Mike Wagner set St. Thomas fans afire with a dazzling 78-yard touchdown dash on the opening kickoff and then led the Irish to a 20-7 halftime advantage. The second half belonged to the defense, which failed to crack under the pressure running of St. John tailback Jim Dupuis and a last-minute aerial barrage that brought the Crusaders within seven points and the Irish 31 yard line with less than a minute to play.

"We beat a fine ball team," said an obviously pleased Wagner afterwards. "They wouldn’t let us up the middle, so we just ran off the tackles. It was a great start."

The Irish rambled for 198 yards rushing while taking recourse to the airways only twice, once complete for five yards and once intercepted.

"With that kind of record we can't say too much about our passing game," said Wagner. "We’re going to have to work on it. I don’t foresee enjoying this kind of success on the ground every game.”

Schwind and halfbacks Dave Moray and Louie Richard divided the rushing yardage almost evenly. Richard’s three-yard touchdown dive off right tackle midway through the second period was responsible for putting the Irish ahead to stay. On the ensuing St. Thomas kickoff, Irish end Bob Hurtubise pounced on the bouncing ball at the St. John 37. and this time it was Moray’s turn for the scoring honors.

The 150-pound senior gathered in a Wagner pitchout, and following a key block by Schwind, scooted around right end to the Crusader 12. Richardson carried to the 7, and then it was Moray straight ahead for the final Irish touchdown.

The opening victory may bring St. Thomas some bad news at the left tackle spot, where they may be faced with the loss of junior Dave Burke. Burke suffered a probable torn cartilage in the left knee on the opening kickoff.

St. John tested the Irish defense with a two-pronged attack of Dupuis on the run and quarterback Bob Sutton through the air. Dupuis carried the ball on 27 of the Crusaders' 34 running plays, picking up 105 yards and both St. John touchdowns. The first, an 11-yard sprint in the first quarter, gave the Crusaders a temporary 7-6 lead.

Dupuis personally set up his second score, gathering in a 30-yard Sutton aerial at the Irish 20 and dashing to the 10 before he was pulled down from behind. His touchdown run on the next play pulled St John to 20-13 with just 1:55 to play. The PAT was blocked, but the Crusaders were soon back in scoring position as St. John halfback Dave Richardson recovered Walter Alef's onside kick.

Sutton then attempted the last of his evening's 27 passes (six were complete), running out of downs at the Irish 31.

TOUCHDOWNS: ST. THOMAS - Wagner, Richard, Moray. St. John - Dupuis 2.

EXTRA POINTS: ST. THOMAS - Wagner 2 (kick). St. John - Alef (kick).

OFFICIALS: Len Kursewicz, Phil Barnes, Ted Wilson.