The first battle in 17 years between two longtime rival East Metro powers went the way of St. Thomas Academy.
It was all Cadets all night at TCO Performance Center in Eagan, as St. Thomas Academy topped Cretin-Derham Hall 41-14 in the first meeting between the two schools since 2004.
The rivalry, which dates even further back than the two schools’ time together in the St. Paul City Conference in the late 1970s and early 1980s, renewed this season as the Raiders moved down from Class 6A to Class 5A.
The matchup drew thousands of patrons to the Vikings’ practice facility, including the likes of Cretin-Derham Hall and Minnesota Viking alums Matt Birk and Michael Floyd.
St. Thomas Academy coach Dan O’Brien said both schools had alumni functions before the big showdown. Raiders coach Chuck Miesbauer noted what helps make the rivalry special is that the kids get to know one another growing up, and on Friday, they got to meet up once again on the gridiron.
“It’s fun. It was great. Our kids were excited about it all week. Both teams had great crowds,” O’Brien said. “To be able to play in this venue, the tailgating, I think it was great for both communities, not just the player. But I think the experience for the fans, the alumni. … It was great to have a rivalry back.”
The Cadets have been one of Class 5A’s elites for years, and a consistent state title contender under the watchful eye of O’Brien. Nothing from Friday’s contest suggests that will be any different this season.
Cretin-Derham Hall (0-3) looked to get on the board on its first drive of the game, but it turned the ball over on downs inside the Cadets’ 10-yard line. That seemed to set the tone for the night. After that, the Raiders struggled to muster much offensively until the final frame.
St. Thomas Academy (3-0), meanwhile, scored early and often. Sophomore running back Savion Lopez ran in a 44-yard touchdown late in the first quarter to make it 7-0. St. Thomas Academy then recovered the ensuing onside kick and scored another touchdown — a 9-yard rush from Love Adebayo.
“We come out and we score right away. We get a stop. We get a play on special teams, any number of things could’ve created a more favorable opening to the game,” Raiders coach Chuck Miesbauer said. “When that stuff happens, you never know what can happen. But we didn’t make some of the plays and maybe we didn’t have some of the right calls on. … We didn’t make big plays across the board, and they did.”
A 52-yard rushing touchdown from Grady O’Neill made it 21-0 Cadets later in the second. Adebayo tallied another rushing touchdown — the second of three rushing scores for him on the night — in the third quarter, and O’Neill scored again — this time, a 7-yard scoring strike from Maximus Sims — early in the fourth to extend the Cadets’ lead to 34-0 — its largest advantage of the game.
O’Neill, who took snaps at quarterback and receiver, also played defensively for the Cadets as part of a package to help contain Cretin-Derham Hall star Tre Holloman, who started at quarterback for the first time this season.
O’Brien said the Cadets’ offensive line — a unit O’Neill called “ridiculous” — “had a nice night.” St. Thomas Academy ran 38 times for 292 yards Friday. O’Neill had 118 yards on the ground, while Lopez had 91 and Adebayo had 61.
“Our offensive line got rolling,” O’Neill said. “Then obviously we’ve got our two running backs that are really good players. That set it up to get me the ball, get other guys the ball and get the offense going.”
The Raiders’ offense got things going in the fourth quarter, thanks to a pair of touchdowns from quarterback Luke Floysand, who came on in relief in the final frame to run for a score and pass for another. Cretin-Derham Hall running back Will Haider tallied 108 yards of total offense.
Cretin-Derham Hall is winless through three weeks but has endured a brutal early-season schedule. The Raiders’ three losses have come to three teams ranked in the top six in the state in Class 5A, and they played Mahtomedi and Spring Lake Park tough.
“We’ve got to stay at it. It’s been a heck of a three-game stretch for us, and man, tooth-and-nail in the first two, and I wish I could say the same about tonight,” Miesbauer said. “All we can do is come back. We can learn from this and see what the next team has in store and try to right the ship. This is a good football team. I believe that to my core. Not reflected tonight. I think reflected in the previous two games. We’ve got five to go, and there’s no reason we can’t play off some of that momentum … and get everything rocking and rolling into the section time.”