Story and photo courtesy of St. Thomas Athletics
St. Thomas advanced to the NCAA Division III playoff quarterfinals for the fourth consecutive year with a 24-17 win over Elmhurst on Saturday in O’Shaughnessy Stadium.
The No. 3 Tommies (12-0) will host Hobart (12-0), a 35-10 winner over Wittenberg, at noon Saturday, Dec. 1, for the right to return to the NCAA semifinals.
St. Thomas faced its largest deficit of the season at 14-0 after two early Elmhurst scores, but responded with three straight touchdowns to lead 21-14 at halftime. The teams traded field goals in the third quarter, and St. Thomas denied the Bluejays on three fourth-down attempts to stop drives in the fourth quarter. Elmhurst was held to just three points in the final 48:00 on the clock.
With the win, Coach Glenn Caruso moved into sole possession of second place with 55 career victories at St. Thomas against just seven losses, and can tie Frank Deig for the top spot with a win over Hobart. Deig was 56-37-2 from 1946 to 1957.
The Tommies used one big play –- a 51-yard run by quarterback Matt O’Connell –- to set up Brenton Braddock’s one-yard touchdown run. They also scored on their two longest plays of the season -– an 88-yard pass from O’Connell to Matt Misiewicz and an 86-yard run by defensive lineman Ayo Idowu after a fumble recovery.
The teams traded field goals in the third quarter, with Paul Graupner’s 28-yarder giving the Tommies a 24-17 lead. The field goal came after the Tommies longest drive of the year in terms of plays (17) and time (8:27), as they converted four straight third-down plays.
In the fourth quarter, Elmhurst drove to the St. Thomas 30 and the 16 but was stopped both times on downs. The Bluejays’ final drive also ended on downs, at their own 23.
O’Connell finished with 291 yards of total offense, including 201 passing on 11 of 14 completions and 90 rushing. Braddock had 91 yards rushing.
Scottie Williams, the Bluejays’ career-leading rusher, ran for 105 yards and finished the season with 2,033 yards. He was only the third opposing back to run for more than 100 yards against the Tommies, who came into the game ranked No. 6 in Division III in allowing only 66 rushing yards per game.
St. Thomas has won 16 November games in a row, including 8-0 in the NCAA playoffs. The Tommies are 32-2 in O’Shaughnessy Stadium during Caruso’s five-year tenure, including 15 wins in a row.