Glenn Caruso thought there was a good chance that St. Thomas might draw St. Scholastica in the first round of the NCAA Division III football playoffs. A matchup between two undefeated Minnesota teams, he figured, would be an attractive proposition to the selection committee -- and a heck of a lot of fun for everyone.
When it was announced Sunday afternoon that the Tommies would play host to the Saints next Saturday, players and coaches on both sides were thrilled. Minnesota Duluth and St. Cloud State also will begin the playoffs on their home fields Saturday in the 24-team Division II bracket. The Huskies (9-2) received the No. 3 seed in Super Regional 3 and will play Michigan's Wayne State (8-3), while the Bulldogs (9-2) drew the No. 4 seed and a matchup against Saginaw Valley (7-3).
St. Scholastica (10-0), in only its fourth season of football, earned the first-ever automatic bid awarded to the champion of the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference. St. Thomas, also 10-0, is ranked No. 3 in the nation after winning its second consecutive Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title.
"It is such a rare opportunity to have two 10-0 teams in a state,'' Caruso said. "For us to play each other, it's going to be a tremendous game-day environment. We're chomping at the bit.''
Saints coach Greg Carlson welcomed the chance to play a powerhouse. His team has won 14 consecutive games, with quarterback Alex Thiry -- the most efficient passer in Division III -- leading an offense that is scoring 45.6 points per game. The Saints have only five turnovers this season and are limiting opponents to 14.9 points per game.
St. Thomas is ranked second in the nation in rushing defense (54.4 yards per game) and fourth in scoring defense (10 points per game).
"This is a great opportunity for us as a program to play a great team like St. Thomas,'' Carlson said. "We've improved every week throughout the season, and we're excited about this challenge.''
Minnesota Duluth, the defending Division II national champion, earned its playoff spot by beating Minnesota State Mankato 31-19 on Saturday. Losses by three teams ranked higher in Super Region 3 allowed the Bulldogs to move up enough to get a home game. Though the No. 10 Bulldogs made the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year, this marks the first time they have not received a bye.
"We're excited to have the opportunity to play at home,'' coach Bob Nielson said. "A lot of things had to happen for us to move up. I felt really good about the way we played Saturday, but we still have a lot of things we can do better.''
St. Cloud State will host a playoff game for the second consecutive season, and the 15th-ranked Huskies have a 15-game winning streak at home. "It's a great feeling to be playing at home,'' coach Scott Underwood said. "Our playoff experience from last year will help.''