Tommies rally to advance in Division III playoffs

  • Article by: JOEL RIPPEL , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 25, 2012 - 12:28 AM

St. Thomas rallied to beat Elmhurst on an 88-yard pass play and an 86-yard fumble return in the second quarter.

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For the second week in a row, it took a while for the St. Thomas football team to find a rhythm.

And just like last week, the Tommies kept their composure until they found it.

On Saturday at O'Shaugnessy Stadium, the Tommies rallied from a 14-point first-quarter deficit for a 24-17 victory over Elmhurst in the second round of the NCAA Division III playoffs.

"We want to come out fast," St. Thomas coach Glenn Caruso said. "[Today] we weren't able to get into much of a rhythm until the second quarter. But we didn't panic or overreact.

"Our coaching staff and our players have done a phenomenal job of seeing what [our opponent] is doing in two or three drives and making adjustments."

With the victory the Tommies advanced to the national quarterfinals for the fourth consecutive season.

The Tommies (12-0), who were scoreless in the first quarter of their 48-17 first-round victory over St. Norbert, will host Hobart next Saturday. Hobart defeated Wittenberg 35-10 on Saturday.

Elmhurst, an Illinois college making its first postseason appearance, scored twice in a four-minute span in the first quarter to take a 14-0 lead.

After blocking a field-goal attempt on the Tommies' first drive, the Bluejays (10-2) went 75 yards in six plays -- capped by a 16-yard run by Scottie Williams -- to take a 7-0 lead.

On the Tommies' second play of the ensuing possession, Elmhurst's Dan Vicari recovered a fumble at the Tommies 34. Seven plays later, Joe Furco scored on a 12-yard run.

The Tommies' comeback began on their ensuing possession with a 76-yard, seven-play drive. It opened with a 51-yard run by quarterback Matt O'Connell and was capped by Brenton Braddock's 1-yard touchdown run.

Early in the second quarter, O'Connell connected with Matt Misiewicz for an 88-yard TD pass.

Elmhurst responded by driving to a first-and-goal at the Tommies 8 before Ayo Idowu picked up an Elmhurst fumble and rumbled 86 yards for a touchdown, putting St. Thomas ahead 21-14 at halftime.

The two touchdowns -- less than five minutes apart -- are the Tommies' longest plays of the season.

The teams traded field goals in the third quarter. In the scoreless fourth quarter, the Tommies' defense stopped the Bluejays on fourth down three times -- twice in St. Thomas territory.

"The game came down to a couple of plays," Elmhurst coach Tim Lester said. "They're a well-coached team. Both defenses played well."

Elmhurst's Williams, a finalist for the Division III player of the year, rushed for 118 yards to go over 2,000 yards this season. Braddock rushed for 100 yards for the Tommies, and O'Connell passed for 198 yards.

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