MINNEAPOLIS — St. Thomas coach Glenn Caruso jokes that he occasionally has to remind Chinni Oji that he’s a cornerback — not a wide receiver — and that every ball in the air doesn’t belong to him.
But on Saturday, Caruso was ecstatic that his defensive back made like a wide receiver again and came away with a fourth-quarter interception to preserve a 10-0 St. Thomas lead and help the Tommies stave off a tough Augsburg team to win 17-0.
“The play of the game, no question,” Caruso said of Oji’s interception at the St. Thomas 2-yard line. “Chinni is such a smart player. He reads his keys so well that he never puts himself in a bad position, and then when the ball is in the air he attacks it.”
Oji used the same word — attack — in describing what happened on the first-down play from the St. Thomas 12 when Augsburg quarterback Marcus Brumm dropped back to pass.
“If I see the ball, I just attack it,” Oji said, who also had interceptions against Concordia and St. Olaf and led the Tommies with eight tackles (five solo) on Saturday. “They were running three slants, and when the quarterback threw the ball, I hopped in front of it.”
The interception was one of several sterling defensive plays by the Tommies (6-0, 4-0 MIAC), who stopped the Auggies four times inside the St. Thomas 30 — three times on fourth down and short yardage and once on Oji’s interception. That helped them record UST’s first conference shutout since 2003.
“Defense: Your backs were to the wall and you never stopping fighting,” Caruso said in the midfield huddle after the game. “You guys told me today what you want to be as a team.”
Caruso also praised the defense’s gutsy play two series after the Oji interception, which gave the Tommies the ball at their own 2. Running back Colin Tobin and quarterback Dakota Tracy, who each rushed for more than 100 yards, carried the ball on eight consecutive plays before Augsburg recovered a Tobin fumble at the St. Thomas 34 with 10:46 left in the game.
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