ELMHURST, Ill. — St. Thomas (Minn.) advanced to the NCAA quarterfinals for the fourth consecutive year by rallying from 14 points down to defeat Elmhurst 24-17 on Saturday.
The Tommies (12-0) will host No. 7 Hobart (12-0) Dec. 1 for the right to return to the NCAA semifinals.
For the third consecutive week, St. Thomas spotted an opponent a first-quarter lead. The 14-point deficit was the largest the Tommies had faced since trailing UW-Eau Claire 24-13 in the fourth quarter of the season opener.
“I thought their defense did a fantastic job, especially in the first quarter,” head coach Glenn Caruso said of the Bluejays. “That’s not a position [down 14-0] we are used to being in, and I’m happy our guys didn’t panic.”
St. Thomas looked like it might grab an early lead on its opening drive, moving to the Elmhurst 18, but the Bluejays held and deflected a 42-yard field goal attempt by Paul Graupner.
They took over at the St. Thomas 25 and needed only six plays to cover 75 yards, with running back Scottie Williams scoring on a six-yard run. A Brenton Braddock fumble on the second play of the ensuing drive gave Elmhurst the ball at the St. Thomas 34. Seven plays later, quarterback Joe Furco ran the ball in from the 11 and a 14-0 lead.
The Tommies responded with three big plays on offense and defense in the second quarter to lead 21-14 at halftime.
Quarterback Matt O’Connell’s 51-yard run opened St. Thomas’ third drive and moved the ball to the Elmhurst 26. Six plays later, Braddock plunged in from the one for a touchdown. The Tommies then forced an Elmhurst punt and took over at their own 12-yard line, where O’Connell dropped back to pass on first down.
“We had an idea what the defense might give us,” he said. “We ran a perfect double post, with Dan [Ferrazzo] and Matt [Misiewicz] going down the left side. The offensive line gave me an awesome amount of time. Throwing to Matt, I knew I had to get that ball out quickly so he didn’t get out of my range.”
Ferrazzo’s cut to the middle drew away a safety and O’Connell hit Misiewicz in stride at the Elmhurst 40. He outran the defense for an 88-yard touchdown and the Tommies had forged a 14-all tie.
Elmhurst roared back and had a first-and-goal at the St. Thomas 8 when Furco rolled to his left and prepared to pitch the ball to Williams. Linebacker Harry Pitera pressured Furco and cornerback Ryan Deitz disrupted Williams and the ball came loose at the 14.
Idowu rumbled down the sideline and 86 yards later he had his first collegiate touchdown, giving the Tommies the lead at 21-14.
The Bluejays’ final drive ended on downs at their own 23 and O’Connell took a knee on the game’s last play.
The Tommies had a slight edge in total offense –- 393 to 391 yards –- but ran only 50 plays compared with 75 for Elmhurst.
Braddock rushed for 100 yards – his third consecutive 100-yard game and fourth of the season. O’Connell finished with 283 yards of total offense, including 198 yards on 11 of 14 completions and 90 yards rushing.
Williams ran for 118 yards for Elmhurst, finishing the season with 2,046 yards and his career with 5,203 yards. He was only the third running back to run for more than 100 yards against the Tommies, who rank No. 6 in Division III in allowing only 66 rushing yards per game.
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