The No. 16-ranked St. Thomas football team faces a struggling St. Olaf team in its last regular-season game Saturday at Manitou Field in Northfield, Minn.
With a 34-20 victory over Concordia-Moorhead last Saturday, St. Thomas (7-2 overall, 5-2 MIAC) kept its name in the mix for an at-large bid into what would be the Tommies’ sixth straight playoff appearance.
St. Thomas needs to beat St. Olaf Saturday and have Bethel (9-0 overall, 7-0 MIAC) beat St. John’s (7-2 overall, 5-2 MIAC) to keep its playoff hopes alive.
The Oles (1-8 overall, 0-7 MIAC) sit in last place in the MIAC—their only win being a 37-18 victory over the University of Northwestern (Minn.) in their season opener.
Although the Oles don’t sport a strong record, defensive back Sean Hamlin said his team can’t overlook St. Olaf.
“In this conference, anything can happen at any moment,” Hamlin said. “We need to come out just as prepared, if not more, against the Oles as if we were playing a Bethel- or a Mount Union-type team.”
Ole quarterback Nate Penz is third in the MIAC with nearly 239 yards per game, but he is also tied with Augsburg quarterback Ayrton Scott for the most interceptions thrown on the season with 14.
Wide receivers Stephen Asp and Jake Schmiesing are also offensive leaders. Asp is fifth in receiving yards per game with 649, and Schmiesing is third in touchdowns caught this season with eight.
During last year’s matchup, the Tommies allowed the Oles 319 offensive yards, 205 of those through the air. St. Thomas’ defensive coordinator Wallie Kuchinski said the wide receiving core is the most important aspect of the Ole offense.
“Their top three wide receivers are as good as any top three in the conference,” Kuchinski said. “Stephen Asp is their top offensive threat. He’s long and athletic with speed. He makes tough catches and has good body control.”
Hamlin said St. Olaf’s passing game is strong, but its ground game will also present a challenge.
“This last game of the year is no walk-through. We are going to have our hands full with stopping St Olaf’s passing attacks and ground game,” Hamlin said.
The Ole defense is averaging more than 34 points and 405 yards allowed per game. Last week against the Cobbers, the Tommies tallied 35 points and 458 yards, offensively.
Wide receiver Dan Ferrazzo said the Tommies will be in a good position if they work as a team.
“They have good hustle on defense,” Ferrazzo said. “As long as we get more purple to the pile, we will be in good shape.”
If St. Thomas wins Saturday, it will be on a four-game win streak and be in contention for a playoff berth.
The Tommies will find out their playoff fate during Sunday’s selection show at 4 p.m.
“If we are blessed enough to win this weekend and get into the postseason, getting into a rhythm on offense, defense and special teams can make or break your run,” Kuchinski said.
Jesse Krull can be reached at email@example.com.