By Jeff Wald

The No. 3-ranked St. Thomas football team was in complete control most of Saturday afternoon in a 43-0 shutout victory over Northwestern in the opening round of the NCAA Division III Playoffs.

In just one half of action, Alex Fenske was 13-of-19 passing for 206 yards and a touchdown to Joe Reed. The Tommies rushed for 208 yards in the game, led by Stephen Wagner’s 78 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries. Jeremy Molina had only 10 yards on four carries, but scored on a pair of 1-yard runs as the Tommies led 30-0 at half.

The St. Thomas defense, one of the best in the nation, continued its dominance in the victory. The Tommies allowed 162 total yards, including 36 yards rushing. Northwestern had four first downs on its opening possession, which ended with blocked field goal.

The Eagles managed four first downs the rest of the game.

On offense, the Tommies collected 455 yards and had the game in hand with a 30-point lead at the half. Tucker Trettel scored from a yard out to put St. Thomas on the board, and Reed’s touchdown catch from 25 yards out gave St.  Thomas a 15-0 lead before the end of the first quarter.

Glenn Caruso played mostly his second and third-string units in the second half, which he said after the game was the plan if it played out accordingly. The Tommies took a 37-0 lead in the third quarter on Dylan Andrew’s interception on a short pass that he took 58 yards for a touchdown. Wagner added a 10-yard touchdown run.

St. Thomas advances to the second round with the win and will host No. 16-ranked Coe College at noon Saturday in St. Paul. The Kohawks are 11-0 on the season and won the Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. They reached the second round after a 21-14 win over No. 21-ranked Monmouth last Saturday.

On the other half of the bracket, UW-Oshkosh beat Washington University 49-13 and St. John’s scored on the last play of the game, a controversial play at that, to beat UW-Platteville 32-31. If St. Thomas beats Coe Saturday, the Tommies would face and likely host the St. John’s/Oshkosh winner.

But before that talk can even get started, St. Thomas is focused on getting past Coe College.

One thing is certain from the Kohawks’ win over Monmouth: If St. Thomas is going to get the victory, it will need to control the football. Coe forced nine Monmouth turnovers in the victory. Nine. That consisted of five interceptions and four fumbles.

On offense, Coe ran for 263 yards in the win. All but 12 of those yards came from Trevor Heitland. He rushed for 253 yards and a touchdown. Quarterback Gavin Glenn only passed for 72 yards on the day, but he had touchdown strikes to Tyler Gunderson and Daniel Vega less than two minutes apart that gave the Kohawks a 14-7 lead after they got behind in the first quarter.

Heitland scored on a 46-yard run that gave Coe a 21-7 lead late in the third quarter.

For the year, the Kohawks are rushing for more than 270 yards per game and are outscoring opponents, on average, 40-16. Heitland averages about 170 yards per game and has 14 rushing touchdowns. Glenn is passing for about 210 yards per game and has 26 touchdowns.

The Kohawks’ defense is allowing about 367 yards of total offense per game, about 232 through the air.

The St. Thomas offense will need to have eyes on Dylan Stepleton in the secondary. He leads the Kohawks with 66 tackles and has nine interceptions on the season. Robbie Peters has a team-high six sacks.

Despite not having Jordan Roberts most of the season due to a leg injury, the Tommies are still rushing for 200 yards per game. Tucker Trettel and Josh Parks have combined to average about 153 yards per game and 22 touchdowns.

Fenske is having quite the year, passing for 227 yards per game with 23 touchdowns to just four interceptions. His three favorite targets are Nick Waldvogel, Jackson Hull and Joe Reed. They have combined for about 170 yards receiving per game and 21 touchdowns on the year.

Fenske was named the MIAC MVP on Tuesday, which is an impressive feat when you consider he didn’t play the second halves of several games because the Tommies had big leads. He’s thrown for 2,495 yards and is averaging nearly 10 yards per completion.

The Tommies will have a big challenge defensively against Coe. But they’ve answered every test this year so far. St. Thomas has one of the top defenses in the country, allowing about 11 points per game and just 208 total yards.

Tune into WCCO Radio 830 AM just before noon Saturday as Dave Lee will have the play-by-play and Eric Nelson will have color commentary along with Fritz Waldvogel from the sidelines.


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