Reporting Jeff Wald
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – The St. Thomas football team knows it’s probably on the outside looking in when it comes to earning a playoff berth this year.
The Tommies, which dropped to No. 15 in the latest Division III poll after losing 28-21 at Bethel last week, need to win their last four games and have Bethel go undefeated and win the MIAC to have any chance at the postseason. The Bethel Royals host an improved Gustavus squad this week, travel to Hamline, host St. Olaf and finish by heading to St. John’s. The Johnnies have a bye this week, but if they beat Gustavus and Hamline, they would be hosting Bethel needing a win in the regular season finale to clinch at least a share of the MIAC.
If the Royals run the table, there could be three teams with two conference losses and one potential NCAA at-large bid available between St. Thomas, Concordia (Moorhead) and St. John’s. At this point, it’s nothing more than an educated guess as who to would get that bid.
This week in St. Paul, the focus for the Tommies is on getting ready for Hamline. On paper, it’s a match-up the Tommies shouldn’t have any problem with if they play to their potential. The Pipers’ only conference win came against St. Olaf, which St. Thomas hasn’t faced yet. Hamline lost to Carleton in its MIAC opener 20-17 in overtime. That’s the same squad St. Thomas beat 65-6.
The Pipers have also lost 55-20 to Augsburg, 52-7 to Gustavus and 63-7 to Concordia (Moorhead). St. Thomas has yet to play Augsburg or Concordia.
The Tommies enter the week having a pretty simple scenario in front of them: They have to win, then start to scoreboard watch around the league.
But St. Thomas can’t overlook Hamline with a tough game at Augsburg in two weeks. The Pipers are led by running back Austin Duncan who averages about 142 yards per game and has six rushing touchdowns. Quarterback Tim Bona has 777 passing yards and five passing touchdowns. For the season, Hamline is being outscored by opponents by a 41-20 margin. The Piper defense is allowing about 195 rushing yards and 216 passing yards per game.
That signals opportunities for a St. Thomas offensive unit to put up big numbers, even without its top quarterback available. Both Alex Fenske and John Gould played for the Tommies in last week’s loss, but with Fenske’s stronger arm, I would expect him to play against Hamline.
On the season, Hamline’s defense allows more than 400 yards of offense and about 41 points per game. On offense, St. Thomas is averaging more than 430 yards per game and 33.5 points. The Tommies put up 552 yards of total offense last year in a 51-9 win over the Pipers. Look for Jack Kaiser to get the bulk of the load in the run game as he was the featured back against Bethel last week. Brenton Braddock, who hasn’t played since fumbling at Gustavus, is out injured.
The best case scenario for St. Thomas: Get a lead early, have a big lead at half and let the reserves play for the second half if it’s an option. It’s the type of game where the longer the Pipers stay close, the more confident they get and tougher they become to put away.
In other MIAC action Saturday, Gustavus travels to Bethel looking for a big upset, Augsburg heads to Concordia in what looks to be a great game and Carleton heads across the Cannon River to face St. Olaf in the Battle for the Goat Trophy.
St. Thomas (4-2) and Hamline (2-4) kick off at about 1:10 p.m. Saturday at O’Shaughnessy Stadium in St. Paul. Tune into WCCO Radio 830 AM at about 1 p.m. for live coverage with Dave Lee calling the play-by-play. Eric Nelson and former St. Thomas star Fritz Waldvogel will team up to provide color commentary.