Reporting Jeff Wald
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – The St. Thomas football team couldn’t have asked for a much better performance in at this point what was their biggest football game of the season.
The No. 3-ranked Tommies hosted No. 9-ranked Bethel for Homecoming on Saturday. It was a meeting of the last two unbeaten teams in the MIAC, setting up one team for a stretch run to the conference title.
St. Thomas was completely dominant against Bethel all afternoon in every phase of the game, compiling 370 yards of offense and limiting the Royals to just 160 yards in a 37-0 shutout victory. Bethel managed seven first downs and ran for only 31 yards in the game.
It’s the first time the Tommies have shut out a top-10 team and it was the first time since 2004 that Bethel has been shut out.
The Tommies led 24-0 at the half. Aaron Terrell-Byrd ran for a 1-yard touchdown to open the scoring for the Tommies. Matt O’Connell fumbled at the goal line, but Dan Noehring recovered in the end zone to give St. Thomas a 14-0 lead.
O’Connell later connected with Cole Kelly on a short touchdown pass before the end of the first half to give St. Thomas a 24-0 lead at the half. Brenton Braddock added a 1-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, and Steve Dejewski put the icing on the cake with a 49-yard interception return for a touchdown.
O’Connell finished with 252 total yards and one passing touchdown on the day.
St. Thomas’s defense held Bethel quarterback Erik Peterson to just 129 yards through the air and had two interceptions. That unit was the story of the day, keeping in check a Bethel offense that features several dangerous weapons.
The Tommies could not have had a more dominating performance in a game they had to win to stay ahead in the conference race. Nothing is guaranteed the rest of the way as St. Thomas still has Concordia (Moorhead) and Augsburg on the schedule, who each have one loss in the MIAC along with Bethel.
St. Thomas gets Augsburg at home in two weeks and travels to Moorhead to face the Cobbers on Nov. 3. Not to be forgotten is the Tommies home finale against St. Olaf Nov. 10. In terms of the one-loss teams, Augsburg hosts Concordia this week and Bethel heads to Gustavus.
Coach Glenn Caruso is closing in on 50 career victories with the Tommies, and he’s not through five seasons yet. A win over Hamline this Saturday would make him one of the quickest in MIAC history to get to that number.
Caruso has said in the past that his squad has never had an issue with looking ahead of or past opponents. That will be put to the test this week as the Tommies head to Hamline, which is winless in the MIAC this season.
For now, St. Thomas is right where it wants to be. The Tommies just blew out a top-10 team and control their own destiny for a third straight MIAC championship.