By Jeff Wald

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – There were 21 seniors on the St. Thomas football team that left Palmer Field at O’Shaughnessy Stadium Saturday with both bittersweet and thrilled emotions.

After giving up 13 early points, the Tommies outscored Concordia (Moorhead) 34-7 the rest of the game in a 34-20 victory to keep their playoff hopes alive. St. Thomas (7-2, 5-2) travels to St. Olaf on Saturday to close out the regular season. A win for the Tommies, couple with a Bethel victory at St. John’s, should be enough to get St. Thomas into the playoffs. The Cobbers were eliminated from the postseason with Saturday’s loss.

Bethel clinched a MIAC championship Saturday by beating the Oles 47-0. That snaps the St. Thomas streak of three straight MIAC titles. Concordia, St. Thomas and St. John’s are all currently 5-2 in the league with one game left. If Bethel beats St. John’s and the Tommies win at St. Olaf, St. Thomas should receive an at-large bid. Things get a little more confusing between tiebreakers and region rankings if St. Thomas and St. John’s both finish 6-2 in the MIAC.

For now, what matters is St. Thomas did enough Saturday despite a rough start to stay in playoff contention. The Cobbers scored twice in a three-minute span early in the first quarter to take a 13-0 lead. St. Thomas answered with rushing touchdowns from Jack Kaiser and Nick Waldvogel to grab a 14-13 lead after the first quarter.

About midway through the second quarter, Alex Fenske found a wide open Charlie Dowdle on a 26-yard touchdown pass to give St. Thomas a 21-13 lead. The Cobbers answered with a 1-yard touchdown run from Griffin Neal to get within 21-20, but Kaiser’s second touchdown of the first half gave St. Thomas a 27-20 lead at the half.

Kaiser scored his third touchdown of the game midway through the third quarter on a 6-yard run to give the Tommies a 34-20 lead. The St. Thomas defense led the team to a victory by shutting out the Cobbers in the second half.

Concordia, the top rushing team in the MIAC this season, was limited to about half its average with 105 yards rushing. Neal led the Cobbers with 66 yards and two touchdowns. Concordia had five other running backs collect a combined 39 yards rushing.

St. Thomas, meanwhile, averaged more than five yards per carry on the way to running for 233 yards in the win. Kaiser, who picked up the running load early in the season, led St. Thomas with 134 yards and the three scores on 24 carries. Waldvogel also ran for 100 yards and a touchdown. The Tommies had a balanced offensive attack as Fenske was 14-of-26 for 225 yards passing with one touchdown and one interception.

It’s the type of offensive balance St. Thomas will need if it’s going to get an at-large bid to the playoffs and continue the program’s playoff success. The Tommies outgained the Cobbers 458-293 on the day.

St. Thomas closes out the regular season Saturday afternoon at St. Olaf. The Tommies should be heavily favored against an Oles squad that has only one win on the season and has lost seven straight in the MIAC under first-year head coach Craig Stern.

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