FARGO — In a season of firsts for the University of St. Thomas, Aiden Carlson turned in a sacred feat. The freshman tight end from Fargo North became the first player to score a touchdown for the Tommies as a Division I FCS football program.
It was also the only TD for St. Thomas, which defeated Division II Michigan Tech 12-9 Saturday in Houghton, Mich.. It came in an unusual way.
“It wasn’t how I thought it would go,” Carlson said. “But it just happened.”
How it happened was an exercise in being alert. The Tommies were at the 1-yard line and called for a quarterback sneak with Tommy Dolan. As he approached the end zone, Dolan reached out to try to get the football over the goal line, but a Tech player knocked it out of his hand.
“I saw it on the ground and had to fight for it,” Carlson said. “I was put in the right place at the right time.”
Carlson’s recovery in the end zone tied the score at 9-9, but the Tommies missed the extra point with 5:43 remaining in the game. St. Thomas held the Huskies to a three-and-out, got the ball back and Louis Hyde’s 32-yard field goal with just under a minute remaining was the game-winner.
Carlson, however, had the game-turning play.
He played most of the second half after the Tommies decided to go with their better receiving tight end in Carlson.
“In the first half, the coaching staff wanted to go with a more run-heavy package and dominate the run game,” Carlson said.
It was the first game for the Tommies after 95 weeks including last week’s cancellation against St. Francis (Ill.) because of problems with COVID-19 in the St. Francis program. The schedule takes a turn for the tougher next Saturday when the Tommies play at Northern Iowa, which gave Iowa State all it wanted in the season opener and defeated Sacramento State 34-16 on the road on Saturday.
"Man they're big," said St. Thomas head coach Glenn Caruso. "We know it's going to be physical and we know the matchup is David vs. Goliath. All we ask for is an opportunity to compete and fight and we're blessed for that."
Although not eligible for the playoffs because of a five-year reclassification from Division III, the Tommies are playing in the Pioneer Football League — the same league as Valparaiso. North Dakota State improved to 2-0 with a 64-0 win over Valpo on Saturday. The Tommies are members of the Summit League in most other sports.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun, going across the country,” Carlson said. “Ever since I got here, the culture and brotherhood is second to none. Whether it’s Michigan Tech, Northern Iowa or San Diego, the culture doesn’t change. Whether it’s Michigan Tech or Northern Iowa, we’ll play our game of football.”
Carlson said his initial goal was to play on special teams. Injuries to older players got him on the field at tight end sooner than he figured. Another starter chose to enter the work force rather than come back for another year.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect, was it Division III or Division I?” he said. “The talent we have is definitely Division I talent.”
A day before the Tech game, Caruso was messaging with former Bison tight end Andy Delabarre, who was at NDSU when Caruso was a Bison assistant. DelaBarre, who coaches football in LaMoure, N.D., scored a touchdown in his first game in the Fargodome.
"Andy, glad to see your name pop up, I'll never forget your first game in the dome," Caruso told him. "It's kind of serendipitous. All of a sudden a kid from Fargo, a tight end, plays more than we expect and not only did he recover the ball but he was fighting for the ball."