For the third time in as many seasons, the St. Thomas football team will host an opening round NCAA tournament game.
The Tommies will play the Eureka College Devils at noon on Nov. 18 at O’Shaughnessy Stadium. The Devils, from Eureka, Illinois, play in the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference and have an 8-2 this season record. Seeding for the tournament will be finalized by Nov. 13.
St. Thomas and Eureka have never crossed paths on the gridiron. Despite the unfamiliarity, safety Isaac Seering doesn’t think this week will be too different.
“We’re a very process-oriented team,” Seering said at a viewing of the playoff selection. “Being our fourth berth consecutively attests to the process. We’ll be ready.”
St. Thomas enters the NCAA tournament for the fourth time in as many season, and will be making its eighth appearance under coach Glenn Caruso. In eighteen home playoff games, the Tommies boasts a 16-2 record, and they are 33-1 in November games dating back to 2009.
The Devils, who went 8-1 against UMAC opponents, will be making their first-ever NCAA tournament appearance. Eureka is 0-2 in national postseason appearances according to the school’s athletics website, losing in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics tournament in both 1991 and 1994. The team has a 2-0 record against MIAC teams; they beat Bethel in 1970 and 1971.
“We don’t know what to expect,” running back Josh Parks said. “They’re going to give us things we have seen before, and we’re going to have to prepare for that and learn on the fly. It’ll be fun.”
Last season, the Tommies were bounced from postseason play by a 34-31 defeat by Wisconsin-Oshkosh in the quarterfinal round.
In the game, St. Thomas turned the ball over eight times and fell to a 24-10 halftime deficit. In the second half, powered by senior quarterback Alex Fenske and first-year running back Josh Parks, the Tommies went on a 21-7 run to tie the game at 31 with just over six minutes in the fourth.
Despite the comeback attempt, a costly fumble by wide receiver Luke Iverson with seven seconds left at the St. Thomas 12-yard line. The Titans recovered and kicked the game-winning field goal as time expired.
“We learned a lot from that game,” Caruso said. “Every game we have, every playoff run, every chance we get to play in November and December, you learn something. Last year, even though it hurt losing to Oshkosh … we learned something.”
The only way the Tommies could play Oshkosh this time around and avenge last season’s loss is if both teams reach the Stagg Bowl.
St. Thomas, ranked No. 4 in the final American Football Coaches Association poll of the season, was placed into the same bracket as Mary Hardin-Baylor and Linfield, who were ranked No. 1 and No. 8 in the AFCA poll.
Also representing the MIAC in the playoffs, St. John’s earned one of seven at-large tournament bids. They will play the North Central Cardinals in Illinois. This is the fourth consecutive national playoff bid for the Johnnies.
While both teams face an uphill battle to the Stagg Bowl in December, it is possible for the Tommies and Johnnies to meet up in the championship game; both teams were placed in opposite brackets for the tournament.
“Anytime you have a team that you love, that enjoys being around each other as much as our team does and is as intuitive and tight as our team is, it’s an honor to be able to have another week,” Caruso said. “If we do our job in that week, then maybe we get another week.”
Noah Brown can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brady Halbmaier and Carolyn Meyer contributed to this report.