For a while on Saturday it looked as if St. Luke’s wide receiver, tail back and occasional quarterback Noel Thomas Jr. wasn't going to shake the illness that had laid him low for two days prior to the Storm's home opener against the Berkshire School (Sheffield, MA). But starting at the end of the first quarter, Thomas amassed 132 rushing yards and three touchdowns and lifted St. Luke's to a 22-7 win, its second victory of the young season. Earlier this year, Thomas committed to the University of Connecticut after rushing for 1,062 yards and 11 touchdowns as a junior to help establish St. Luke's as a team to be reckoned with in the Fairchester Athletic Association with a 6-1 record.
In the non-conference match up with the Berkshire Bears, St. Luke's offense failed to ignite until, as the first quarter ended, Thomas ripped through the left side of the line, and sprinted 21 yards for the game's first TD. On the ensuing kickoff, Storm junior Robert Wood saved a TD when the Bears return man sliced through the rest of the St. Luke's coverage down to the Storm 46 where penalties killed a subsequent drive.
The Bears mounted a threat in the second stanza when a roughing the punter call put Berkshire on the Storm's 37 yard line. Three plays, later it was 4th and 8 when the Bears lifted a pass certain to make a first down in the red zone, until St. Luke's senior Myles Gaines ripped the ball from the receiver's grasp to end the drive. Later in the quarter the Bears stuffed St. Luke's on a 4th and short and took over on their own 49 yd line. Two quick first downs later the Bears appeared to stall at the 10 with the clock running down to half. But a Storm coverage failure left a slanting wide receiver free in the end zone for the score. Unlike St. Luke's, the Bears converted their PAT for a 7-6 halftime lead.
Midway through the third period Wood blindsided the Bears quarterback causing a fumble recovered by Storm defensive end TJ Simpson. Gaines, who carried 19 times for 112 rushing yards on the day, did the hard work carving out gains between the tackles and moving St. Luke's into scoring position. En route, Storm QB Charlie Nelson hit junior Blake Stroman with a long aerial strike at the five before Thomas took it to the house on the next play. On the PAT attempt for two, Nelson rolled to his right and bullied his way into the end zone.
Freshman lineman "BJ" Buckle, sophomore linebacker Noah Daniel and senior lineman "Ron" Holland stuffed the Bear's ground game for much of the afternoon, while Gaines made life miserable for Berkshire receivers.
Thomas added a final score with 3 minutes left in the game sprinting 30 yards around left end and Gaines punch in another 2 point conversion. The Bears' last hope to add another score ended with a Stroman interception.
"The game didn't go as we had planned, particularly in the first half," said Noel Thomas, Sr., St. Luke's head coach and father of UConn-bound Noel Jr., "but I was gratified by the team's resilience and tenacity. Today we had a good test from a quality team and the Storm stood up to that test."
Next Saturday, St. Luke's travels to the Hopkins School for its first FAA test.