Reporting Jeff Wald
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – It certainly wasn’t easy, but the St. Thomas football team showed no signs of panic after getting down early in a 24-17 win over Elmhurst (Ill.) in the second round of the NCAA playoffs.
The Bluejays scored twice in a four-minute span to take a 14-0 lead over the Tommies in the first quarter. St. Thomas scored 21 straight points and eventually hung on for a 24-17 victory, sending the Tommies to the NCAA quarterfinals for the fourth straight season. St. Thomas will face Hobart College of New York, which beat Wittenberg 35-10 on Saturday.
It will be a match-up of top-10 teams as St. Thomas is ranked No. 3 and Hobart is No. 7. Both teams enter the contest 12-0.
The Tommies got down early in Saturday’s win, and the 14-0 deficit was their largest since coming back from down 24-13 to win at UW-Eau Claire in the season opener. After Elmhurst blocked at St. Thomas field goal, Scottie Williams scored from six yards out to give the Bluejays a 7-0 lead. A Brenton Braddock fumble gave Elmhurst the ball back, and Joe Furco ran in from 11 yards out to give the Bluejays a 14-0 lead.
St. Thomas responded as Braddock scored from 1-yard out to cut the deficit in half later in the first quarter.
The Tommies dominated the second quarter, allowing them to take a 21-14 lead into the break, and they did it with big plays. Matt Misiewicz scored on an 88-yard pass from Matt O’Connell to tie the game 14-14 early in the second quarter. It was the longest play from scrimmage the Tommies have had this season.
With 6:44 left in the first half, the Bluejays were driving until they committed a back-breaking turnover. Elmhurst fumbled at the St. Thomas 14, and Ayo Idowu scooped it up and ran it back 86 yards for a touchdown and a 21-14 lead. The Tommies never trailed the rest of the game. Idowu added seven tackles, including four solo tackles.
The St. Thomas defense stepped up yet again in another big challenge. The Tommies limited Joe Furco to 211 yards passing and no touchdowns. They also held Elmhurst under its rushing average. Ryan Deitz led the defensive effort with 14 tackles, including 11 solo tackles.
Elmhurst kicked a 27-yard field goal with 9:01 left in the third quarter to get within 21-17, but the Tommies answered with a 28-yard Paul Graupner field goal for a 24-17 lead with 22 seconds left in the third.
Elmhurst had three possessions in the fourth quarter to try and tie the game, but they each resulted in a turnover on downs.
O’Connell finished with 198 yards passing and a touchdown, and Braddock finished with 100 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries to lead the St. Thomas offense. O’Connell also ran for 85 yards on 14 carries. Dan Ferrazzo led the receiving corps with six catches for 69 yards.
In other NCAA playoff action, Bethel had its season end after a 37-14 loss at UW-Oshkosh. Mary Hardin-Baylor, Wesley, Widener and Mount Union all also advanced to round out the eight teams left.
The St. Thomas/Hobart winner would face the Linfield/UW-Oshkosh winner in the semifinals on Dec. 8. The Tommies Blog will preview the St. Thomas/Hobart match-up later this week.