The post-season is on the line for the No. 18-ranked St. Thomas football team as it prepares for a clash with No. 21-ranked Concordia-Moorhead at 1:10 p.m. Saturday at home after a close win over Augsburg College last weekend.
Concordia (7-1 overall, 5-1 MIAC) is second in the conference standings and remains in the hunt for an at-large bid in the playoffs. For both teams, a win likely means a spot in the postseason, while a loss would end any hope for a playoff bid.
“There’s no question it’s a big game. We’ve been playing in big games for the last couple weeks, so it’s not completely new to us,” coach Glenn Caruso said. “We’re not in the same position we were last year where we control it all, but we’ve fought ourselves back to a spot where we control a whole lot, and a lot of it hinges on this game.”
St. Thomas (6-2 overall, 4-2 MIAC) must win against both Concordia Saturday and St. Olaf College on Nov. 16 to possibly secure its fifth playoff bid in five years. With a Cobber win Saturday, Concordia would only need to beat Gustavus Adolphus College Nov. 16 to likely secure its first playoff appearance since 2005.
“Certainly, no matter what the record, each game is something you’re fighting for. But when you’re fighting for an opportunity to continue the season or not continue the season, it makes it a lot more real,” Caruso said.
Despite the added pressure of a game with playoff implications, offensive lineman T.J. Woodrow said the team’s preparation for this week’s game hasn’t changed.
“There is definitely some added excitement and significance to this game for sure. However, regardless of the circumstance, we always work and strive to control what we can control, and that is our hustle, effort and tenacity. From there, the rest will take care of itself,” Woodrow said.
Caruso said the Tommies will have to focus on cleaning up mistakes that plagued the team last week.
“Like every other week, we’ve got to look at the errors we made last week and improve on them,” Caruso said. “Whether or not those errors result in a lack of ball security, they have to get cleaned up.”
After turning the ball over three times last week on offense, things won’t get any easier for St. Thomas against Concordia. The Cobbers’ defense has recorded eight interceptions and 15 sacks and ranks second in the conference in fewest rushing yards allowed.
“They definitely have a great front seven, and historically, they are always very good; however, we will prepare for them like any other team,” Woodrow said. “In the end, Saturday will be a game that will consist of 11 battles on each play, and we need to work to win as many of those as we can.”
The Tommie defense will also be put to the test against a Cobber offense that leads the conference in rushing yards with nearly 207 yards per game. The strong Cobber run game features a variety of backs who all get regular carries. Last week against Carleton, Concordia had eight different players rush the ball for a team total of more than 200 yards. However, Concordia’s offense differs from previous years in its passing game’s success.
“They’re more balanced than they have been in the past. They’re averaging over 200 yards passing per game. Much like any good offense, balance is a pivotal part, and I think they have that,” Caruso said. “Certainly (Concordia quarterback Griffin Neal) is playing at a very high level … not just throwing the ball, but he’s running the ball pretty effectively. It might not show up huge on a stat sheet, but he’s putting himself and his team in some pretty good situations.”
Defensive lineman Josh Corbin said discipline on defense is key to stopping the two-dimensional Cobber attack.
“(We’ll) do what we always do— practice hard and strive to play our best game and get in our rhythm,” Corbin said. “It definitely provides us with some challenges, but it will be all about which team can be more disciplined on Saturday.”
Corbin said the team is looking forward to the challenge Concordia poses and hopes to make the most of the task ahead of them.
“When it comes to (these) situations, we always like to look at every situation and embrace it. Embracing the situation makes us a better team by leaning into that adversity and not playing scared,” Corbin said. “We would love the opportunity to keep our football family together for a more extended season.”
Jacob Sevening can be reached at email@example.com.