Reporting Jeff Wald
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – The St. Thomas football team no longer controls its own destiny for a chance to reach the NCAA postseason.
The Tommies lost at Bethel 28-21 Saturday to drop to 4-2 on the season, but more importantly 2-2 in the MIAC. The win for the Royals also gives them the inside track at a league title and the MIAC’s automatic bid to the NCAA Playoffs. Bethel has games left against Gustavus, at Hamline, against St. Olaf and at St. John’s. The Royals will be favored to win all four, but the Johnnies could give them their toughest test in the last week of the regular season.
St. Thomas dropped from No. 9 to No. 15 in the national poll after Saturday’s loss. The Tommies also had a 15-game MIAC road win streak snapped as well as a five-game regular season win streak over Bethel. Most importantly, the Tommies have to win out and get some help to have any chance of reaching the NCAA Playoffs.
The best-case scenario for St. Thomas is to have Bethel go undefeated and win the MIAC, which would give St. John’s two losses on the season. If the Tommies can win out, that would create a three-way tie for second place with St. John’s and Concordia (Moorhead). In that scenario, St. Thomas might get the best look for an at-large bid with its previous success in the NCAA Playoffs.
St. Thomas had its chance to get back into the MIAC race with a win Saturday, but Bethel held off the Tommies just long enough.
The Royals held a 14-0 lead at the half, but St. Thomas got the momentum back in its favor on the kickoff to open the second half. Jack Gilliland took a reverse on the kickoff for a touchdown. Bethel fumbled the ensuing kickoff, and the Tommies recovered. Jack Kaiser tied it five minutes into the third on a short touchdown run, and scored again later in the third to give St. Thomas a 21-14 lead.
Bethel answered with 6:44 to play as Brandon Marquardt took a pass and scored on a 27-yard play. The Royals still trailed 21-20 after a two-point conversion failed. But with 40 seconds left in regulation, Bethel scored the game-winner on a short touchdown run and a converted two-point play. St. Thomas tried to drive the field, but the clock ran out on the Tommies. Their playoff hopes might have expired also.
The St. Thomas defense limited Bethel’s ground game, which averages 220 yards per contest, to just 90 yards. Bethel quarterback Erik Peterson was right on target, going 20-for-29 passing with 262 yards and led the two touchdown drives that won the game for the Royals.
The Tommies had 352 yards of total offense, led by Jack Kaiser’s 141 yards and a two scores on 32 carries.
The bottom line now is that for the first time since Glenn Caruso’s first year at head coach, St. Thomas is on the outside looking in when it comes to a playoff berth. The NCAA won’t take more than two teams from the MIAC, so the Tommies will have to hope a tie for second along with their successful past in the playoffs is enough. St. Thomas hosts Hamline Saturday, and we’ll have a preview of that game later this week.