MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – It should be a playoff-like atmosphere in St. Paul Saturday when No. 18-ranked St. Thomas hosts No. 21-ranked Concordia (Moorhead) as both teams are fighting for their postseason lives.
The Tommies (6-2, 4-2) will have their playoff chances end with a loss, less than a year removed from a run to the Division III national championship game. The Cobbers (7-1, 5-1), with a loss, would be eliminated from playoff contention with Bethel and St. John’s playing for the MIAC title in the final week of the regular season. When the two teams met last year in Moorhead, St. Thomas used a dominant defensive effort to claim a 21-7 victory on the way to a MIAC title.
This time around neither team can win the league, but both are fighting for their postseason chances. And looking at the numbers, it has all the makings of a match-up featuring two playoff-caliber teams.
Concordia presents every element in its approach that will make getting a win for St. Thomas a huge challenge. The Cobbers lead the MIAC in rushing with more than 200 yards per game, and they do it by committee as five players have at least 25 carries on the season. Not one player averages more than 50 yards per game. They also had eight different players get carries last week in a 35-27 win over Carleton. Concordia also had an impressive 47-20 win over Augsburg two weeks ago. That’s the same team St. Thomas escaped last week with a 17-14 victory.
Concordia averages 416 yards of total offense per game on the season and outscores opponents on average 35-21. Quarterback Griffin Neal throws for more than 200 yards per game and has 14 passing touchdowns on the year. He also leads the Cobbers in rushing.
They can run the ball, and they have a stiff defense. Concordia has eight interceptions on the season, 15 sacks and ranks second in the MIAC in rushing defense behind St. Thomas. Concordia enters the game on a three-game win streak.
The St. Thomas defense have to have one of its best games of the season for the Tommies to come away with a win. The Cobbers have featured a triple-option offense that thrives on disguising the football. It requires the defense to have an incredible amount of discipline, athletes must stay in their lanes and make the right reads. Most important, when the Tommies have a chance to make an open field tackle, they must make it. For the most part, tackling hasn’t been an issue for the Tommies this season.
St. Thomas is coming off another turnover-filled game where its defense got a late interception to seal a close victory. The Tommies committed five turnovers, including three Alex Fenske interceptions. They also had a fumble that Augsburg recovered after getting an interception.
The Tommies thrive offensively by winning the line of scrimmage and establishing the run. They’re averaging more than 200 yards per game on the ground, led by Jack Kaiser’s 63 yards per game and seven touchdowns. Fenske, despite throwing four interceptions on the season, is averaging about 180 passing yards per game and has six touchdowns. St. Thomas is also out-scoring its opponents on average 32-12.
It presents a great match-up on paper as both teams, ranked in the top-25, have similar strengths and weaknesses. There really are no secrets between these two teams, it’s a matter of which team executes its game plan better on Saturday.
It’s also Senior Day at St. Thomas as 21 players will be recognized for their dedication to the St. Thomas football program. It’s group that has helped lead the Tommies to four straight NCAA Playoff appearances and three straight MIAC titles. St. Thomas has five straight wins over Concordia and leads the all-time series 37-33.
Kickoff is set for about 1:10 p.m. Saturday at O’Shaughnessy Stadium. Tune into WCCO Radio 830 AM at about 1 p.m. as Dave Lee will have the play-by-play and Eric Nelson will team up to provide color commentary with former St. Thomas star Fritz Waldvogel.