Thomas More emphatically earns first NCAA Division II win

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Thomas More’s football joy was obvious.

There were Saints players dancing the Swag-N-Surf near the end of Saturday’s 37-0 win over Virginia-Wise at Republic Bank Field. Afterward, Saints head coach Chris Norwell happily hopped and bopped with his players as he took the water bucket shower.

Yes, the Saints’ glee was rightfully conspicuous for one large reason: shutting out the Cavaliers was the program’s first victory as an NCAA Division II member.

Redshirt junior defensive lineman Vuk Sajlovic had a message for his future grandchildren.

“We put a goose egg on the board, and that’s the hardest thing you can do in football,” Sajlovic said. 

Norwell called Saturday a team win.

“I knew that we had to come out and really match the intensity that they were going to try and run the ball,” Norwell said.

Thomas More’s (1-1) 16-0 halftime lead was not the most eye-popping statistic. That honor goes to the Saints defense: it allowed the Cavaliers only 59 yards in the first 30 minutes, with minus-10 on the ground. 

For the game, Thomas More allowed just one rushing yard and 95 passing. What was more, the defense recovered three fumbles, and Jackson Belk, Jackson Gear and Sajlovic each sacked quarterback Juwan Dent.

Cavaliers head coach Dane Damron said that was a good day – for a quarter.

“Coming into this game, I thought we were as talented, if not more talented, than them,” Damron said. “But they were a whole lot more experienced than us. Their starting defense had 220 games of college football experience. We were 18- and 19- and 20-year-olds playing against 21-, 22- and 23-year-olds.”

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Sajlovic and friends watched the tackles set up to pass-block to keep an edge rusher away from Dent – and took what the Cavaliers gave. 

“So, it was easier for us to get an inside rush,” he said.

Thomas More didn’t need massive offense – the Saints ran for 123 yards, and Rae’Von Vaden threw for 114 and two touchdowns and ran for a third.

“They were playing a lot of man-to-man, so we just chose to run the ball and figure out how to run the ball on them and pass it as well,” Vaden said.

Thomas More head football coach Chris Norwell (left) invited university president Dr. Joseph Chillo to the postgame huddle. Photo provided | Sally Schaefer

Vaden threw for 87 and a net 38 rushing in the first half, including a 16-yard touchdown pass to Mike Kirch a little less than five minutes into the opening stanza.

The Cavaliers (1-1) were in trouble early – just one rushing yard in the first quarter. Other problems were self-inflicted: seven penalties for 73 yards.

Thomas More kicker (and Scott alumnus) Luke Iden’s three field goals of 28, 31 and 30 yards gave the Saints a 16-0 halftime lead. 

UVA-Wise’s woes were just beginning.

A muffed punt return led to another Thomas More touchdown. Two plays after the Cavaliers’ Dorien Goddard fumbled and Belk recovered, Vaden faked a handoff into the line and went untouched for 26 yards and the score and a 23-0 lead just 63 seconds into the third quarter.

A couple minutes later, the Saints’ Jaden Hall was open from Crestview Hills to Covington. The results: a 20-yard touchdown catch from Vaden and a 30-0 lead.

Emable Wakilongo’s 10-yard run with 11:24 to go completed the scoring.

The Saints open their Great Midwest Athletic Conference schedule when they host Ohio Dominican at 7 p.m. next Saturday.

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Gear didn’t think he’d have to say a lot to his relatives about Saturday’s win.

“I’d probably show them the film nowadays, right?” he said. “They could watch it.”


VIRGINIA-WISE — 0-0-0-0 — 

THOMAS MORE — 10-6147 — 37

Scoring Plays

1st Quarter 

(TM)-Mike Kirch 16 pass from Rae’Von Vaden (Luke Iden kick), 10:09

(TM)-Iden 28 field goal, 5:08

2nd Quarter

(TM)-Iden 31 field goal, 3:24

(TM)-Iden 30 field goal, 0:02

3rd Quarter

(TM)-Vaden 26 run (Iden kick), 13:57

(TM)-Jaden Hall 20 pass from Vaden (Iden kick), 11:15

4th Quarter

(TM)-Emable Wakilongo 10 run (Iden kick), 11:24

Game Stats

Passing Yards: Virginia-Wise 95 (Dent 16-25-69, Corken 5-7-26); Thomas More 114 (Vaden 12-24-114, TEAM 0-1-0).

Rushing Yards: Virginia-Wise 1 (Gillespie 5-31, Pannell 4-11, Lomax 5-7, Goddard 2-3, Dent 6-(minus-49), TEAM 1-(minus-2)); Thomas More 123 (Vaden 12-67, Hall 9-31, Wakilongo 7-20, Marksberry 3-6, White 5-2, Johnson 1,(minus-1), TEAM 1-(minus-2)).

Receiving: Virginia-Wise 95 (Goddard 7-40, Powell 4-29, Moore 23, Davis 3-(minus-8), Thompson 1-5, DeGeare 1-4, Pannell 1-2, Fischbach 1-0); Thomas More 114 (Agee 3-38, Johnson 6-23, Borneman 3-9, Hall 1-20, Kirch 1-20, Hawkins 1-8).

Turnovers:  Virginia-Wise 3, Thomas More 1.

Penalties: Virginia-Wise 8-78,Thomas More 6-50.

Records: Virginia-Wise 1-1, Thomas More 1-1.

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