Playoff paydirt: Football wins handily 43-21 in Monmouth

Video by Michael Ewen

<p>Cornerback Kirk Baglien forces a fumble that St. Thomas would eventually score on.  (John Kruger/TommieMedia)</p>
Cornerback Kirk Baglien forces a fumble that the St. Thomas offensive quickly turned into seven points. (John Kruger/TommieMedia)

Ben Wartman and Colin Tobin combined for 263 yards rushing and three touchdowns to lead the Tommies (10-1) past Monmouth College (10-1) with a score of 43-21 Saturday at April Zorn Memorial Stadium in Monmouth, Ill.

The win is the first playoff victory for the program since 1990, when the Tommies defeated the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.

“It’s huge, you know, to think how far we’ve come,” Wartman said. “It’s these guys buying into the team, it’s the community buying into the team.”

The first half was a high-scoring affair – both teams took turns scoring – but the second half was all St. Thomas. The Tommies added 13 points to its halftime score of 30, while the Scots failed to put any points on the board in the second half.

“We kind of had to just get settled in there,” safety Brian Villar said. “It took us a while in the first half – we got beat deep a few times – but once we settled in, we showed who we are.”

With both teams sporting high-scoring offenses – St. Thomas averaged almost 41 points per game during the regular season as Monmouth averaged 47 – whichever defense managed to get the most stops would prove to be the winner. In the second half St. Thomas’ defense did just that, holding Monmouth to 144 total yards in the second half.

“The offense was fantastic today,” Wartman said. “It was a total team concept, effort just pounding the ball.”

Though the defense stepped up in the second half, perhaps the most important play of the game came in the first half. Defensive back Matt Griswold blocked a punt and Tyler Erstadt scooped it up and returned it for a touchdown.

“There’s a very effective stat that says you win 85 percent of the games in which you block a punt,” coach Glen Caruso said. “Any time you can score without your offense on the field is obviously it’s nice…It was a big play. If you want to boil the game down to one play [the blocked punt] is probably as pivotal as any.”

St. Thomas will play at home next Saturday against Coe College. Coe College nixed any chance the Tommies and Johnnies could could meet in the second round when the team knocked off St. John’s 34-27.

Matt Wolfgram can be reached at