The St. Thomas defense didn't plan anything unusual for Saturday's homecoming game against Bethel. "We just wanted to stop the run," linebacker Harry Pitera said. "That's our bread and butter."
Given the way the Tommies played, they didn't need to resort to any tricks. Third-ranked St. Thomas held No. 7 Bethel to 160 total yards in a 37-0 pummeling at O'Shaughnessy Stadium, dominating the Royals from start to finish. St. Thomas (6-0, 4-0 MIAC) allowed Bethel only 19 total yards and no first downs in the first half, preventing the Royals (5-1, 3-1) from crossing midfield until late in the third quarter.
The Tommies offense did its part, too, controlling the ball for long stretches to give the defense plenty of rest. Quarterback Matt O'Connell did much of the work, running for a game-high 89 yards and completing 19 of 31 passes for 163 more. Bethel finished with 31 rushing yards and never got past the St. Thomas 46-yard line.
The victory leaves St. Thomas as the only undefeated team in the MIAC, putting it in position to claim its third consecutive league championship.
"We knew it would take an unbelievable effort, and that's what we got," Tommies coach Glenn Caruso said. "Our guys were ready to peak at the right time. It was a tremendously dominating performance."
Caruso said the statistic that impressed him the most was that the St. Thomas defense was only on the field for 16 plays in the first half. O'Connell patiently ran the offense, directing time-eating drives that led to a 24-0 advantage at halftime.
Bethel was struck quickly by some bad luck after forcing the Tommies to punt on their first possession. Garrett Maloney's kick hit the heel of Royals cornerback David O'Reilly, and the Tommies' Ryan Deitz pounced on the ball at the Bethel 14. Three plays later, Aaron Terrell-Byrd scored on a 1-yard run.
The Tommies made it 14-0 with 5 minutes, 29 seconds remaining in the first quarter. O'Connell ran the ball to the Bethel 1-yard line and fumbled, but teammate Dan Noehring recovered in the end zone. While the defense bottled up Bethel running backs Jesse Phenow and Brandon Marquardt, the Tommies tacked on a Griffin Snyder field goal, and O'Connell hit Cole Kelly with a 5-yard touchdown pass with only 9 seconds left in the half.
Caruso found plenty of other stats to like, too. St. Thomas amassed a big advantage in time of possession, holding the ball for more than 22 minutes in the first half and 40:38 for the game. It turned the ball over only once, while Bethel lost one fumble and quarterback Erik Peterson threw a pair of interceptions. The Royals also were penalized eight times for 94 yards.
The only blemish on the day for St. Thomas was an injury to Noehring, who hurt his knee in the first half and did not return to the game. Caruso said the extent of the injury had yet to be determined.