Story and photo courtesy of St. Thomas Athletics
St. Thomas deployed a smothering defense and an efficient ball-control offense to shut out Bethel 37-0 Saturday in a first-place showdown between two Top 10-ranked Division III football teams.
The No. 3 Tommies (6-0, 4-0 MIAC) scored on four of their five possessions in the first half while the defense held the No. 7 Royals (5-1, 3-1) to five three-and-out possessions, no first downs and 18 yards from scrimmage in building a 24-0 halftime lead.
The win gives the Tommies sole possession of first place in the MIAC. They have won 30 consecutive regular-season games, 23 in a row in the MIAC, and 11 in a row at home. The lone Tommie hom loss in its last 27 games was 12-7 to Bethel in a NCAA Division III quarterfinal playoff game in December 2010.
St. Thomas never let the Royals get on track offensively. The Royals didn’t record a first down until four minutes into the second half and didn’t get into St. Thomas territory until the 6-minute mark of the third quarter, advancing no deeper than the Tommie 46.
St. Thomas had a time possession advantage of 22:24-7:36 in the first half alone, with Aaron Terrell-Byrd opening the scoring with a one-yard touchdown run. It was the sixth consecutive game that the Tommies scored on their opening series.
Receiver Dan Noehring recovered Matt O’Connell’s fumble in the end zone for a 14-0 St. Thomas lead later in the first quarter. O’Connell had run 15 yards to the goal line, where a defender jarred the ball loose and Noehring fell on it.
After a Griffin Snyder 32-yard field goal, St. Thomas finished off the first half on a four-yard O’Connell touchdown pass to sophomore tight end Cole Kelly with 8.8 seconds leftm -- Kelly's first career recption. The Tommies had 14 first downs and 200 yards of offense in the half. O’Connell’s 179 yards included 67 on the ground and 112 in the air on 13 of 20 passing.
Neither team scored in the third quarter, but the Tommies added two touchdowns in the fourth. Brenton Braddock capped a 13-play, 79-yard drive with a one-yard run, and two backup linebackers joined forces to come up with the final six points. Cavan Metzler hits Bethel quarterback Erik Peterson at midfield and forced a weak pass that Steve Dejewski intercpted and returned 49 yards to the end zone.