Reporting Jeff Wald
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – The MIAC title is wrapped up for the St. Thomas football team, so they’re guaranteed a spot in the NCAA Division III Playoffs.
But there’s still plenty at stake Saturday as the No. 3-ranked Tommies host St. Olaf in their regular season finale at O’Shaughnessy Stadium. St. Thomas is looking for its 34th straight MIAC win and third straight undefeated regular season. It will be the final regular season home game for 23 seniors, but don’t expect it to be very bittersweet.
If the Tommies can beat the Oles, they would be all but guaranteed home field advantage throughout the playoffs until they would travel to the semifinals in Salem, Va., assuming they get that far. The current senior class at St. Thomas has a 45-4 record in four years, three MIAC titles and now their fourth NCAA appearance. The Tommies are also 27-1 in their last 28 home games and have won 12 straight since a 2010 home loss to Bethel in the playoffs.
Look for the Oles to come in and play with some desperation on Saturday. At 7-2 overall, they need a win to have any chance of an at-large bid to the playoffs.
St. Olaf, which has won five of its last six games, is led offensively by quarterback Dan Dobson. The former Mankato West product is leading the MIAC with about 243 passing yards per game and is second in the league with 22 touchdowns. He’s also second on the team in rushing. St. Olaf’s ground game is paced by Michael Thai, who averages just less than 98 yards per game and has nine rushing touchdowns.
Stephen Asp is Dobson’s favorite target as he averages about 80 receiving yards per game and has nine touchdowns. Jake Schmiesing has eight receiving touchdowns. It’s an incredible challenge for an experienced St. Thomas secondary, which is among the best in the MIAC.
The Oles average about 128 yards per game on the ground, which should be another good test for St. Thomas, one of the top rushing defenses in the nation.
On offense, the Tommies have quite the opportunity in the run game regardless of who gets the ball. St. Olaf allows on average more than 211 yards per game, which should mean plenty of opportunities for quarterback Matt O’Connell and running back Brenton Braddock. The Tommies currently average more than 239 yards rushing and about 474 yards of offense per game.
While the MIAC title is already decided, St. Thomas still has every reason to play focused, disciplined football and get the win. The Tommies raced out to a 49-0 lead last year in a 49-14 victory. They also need a win to assure home field, which is pivotal in the playoffs.
Despite a 9-0 record, St. Thomas is ranked No. 2 in its region behind Linfield College and they’re in a virtual tie for third with unbeaten UW-Oshkosh. Any slip-up at all and they could find themselves hitting the road for the playoffs, and it’s pivotal to enter the post-season on a win and feeling good about yourself.
Tune into WCCO Radio at about 1 p.m. Saturday as the Tommies try to complete their third straight perfect regular season. Dave Lee will have the play-by-play and Eric Nelson will provide color commentary.