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Running back Brenton Braddock’s 207 rushing yards and one touchdown lifted No. 4 St. Thomas over St. Olaf 35-21 on a sunny Saturday afternoon in O’Shaughnessy Stadium, giving the Tommies their third consecutive 10-0 season, a first for any MIAC football program.
St. Thomas (10-0, 8-0) also extended its 33-game regular season win streak, which includes 26 straight conference victories. The Tommies last won three straight conference championships from 1947-1950. The loss almost certainly drops St. Olaf (7-3, 5-3) out of playoff contention.
“(The win) definitely sends us in the right direction,” Braddock said. “We’re only promised one week at a time.”
Last weekend’s win over Concordia-Moorhead clinched the MIAC, but the Tommies still had to play for the NCAA playoff positioning, which begin next Saturday. Coach Glenn Caruso was “happy” with his team’s victory and feels “comfortable” with his team’s chances of playing several home playoff games.
“Three or maybe four (games) is what we should be getting,” Caruso said. “Whatever our seedings are, we can’t wait to see.”
Before St. Thomas could consider the playoffs, it had to get by a St. Olaf team coming off last weekend’s upset of nationally-ranked Bethel, led by the MIAC’s most efficient passer quarterback Dan Dobson.
For the first time this season, the Tommies trailed in the first quarter after Dobson hit wide receiver Jake Scmiesing for an 8-yard touchdown, giving the Oles an early 7-0 lead.
Unfazed, St. Thomas answered in the second quarter with two touchdowns.
The first touchdown came when sophomore quarterback Matt O’Connell rolled out to his right, and found tight end Matt Allen wide open in the end zone, tying the score 7-7. O’Connell’s completion was the only pass on the five-play scoring drive.
St. Thomas focused on its run game this afternoon, and it showed with 359 yards rushing.
Braddock, who put the Tommies ahead for good with his 11-yard touchdown before halftime, credited his teammates.
“The offensive line did a great job,” Braddock said. “Fullbacks leading up the hole, tight ends coming around to block, wide receivers out there blocking outside, they did the work.”
Caruso said running the ball was a “priority” against St. Olaf.
“We wanted to come out and establish our rhythm,” Caruso said. “Being able to establish that rhythm felt pretty darn good.”
Not only did the Tommie offense appear to be clicking on all cylinders, the defense put in another impressive performance collecting four sacks in the first half alone, finishing with six on the game. St. Thomas also held St. Olaf to 153 yards offensively in the first half.
Linebacker Tremayne Williams said the team’s ability to disrupt Dobson was from the defensive line’s strong play.
“We definitely wanted to put pressure on him (Dobson),” Williams said. “We wanted to throw him out of his rhythm.”
Dobson completed 12-of-23 passes for 105 yards in the first half but was on the ground after nearly every play.
Rhythm offensively and defensively continues
After holding St. Olaf to its second three-and-out of the game, O’Connell orchestrated a seven-play, 51-yard drive capped off by running back Jack Kaiser’s 4-yard touchdown run.
Following a fumble recovery by cornerback Chinni Oji with 6:06 remaining in the third quarter, O’Connell hit wide receiver Dan Ferrazzo for a 48-yard touchdown. Ferrazzo fought off two Oles as he dove into the end zone, making the score 28-7. O’Connell only completed 7-of-14 passes for 119 yards on the day.
Seemingly defeated, St. Olaf did not give up. On a fourth-and-5 midway through the third quarter, Dobson shrugged off two defenders before connecting with wide receiver Stephen Asp for a 38-yard touchdown reception, cutting the lead to 28-14.
Caruso said he was “real happy” with his team’s containment of the explosive Dobson, outside the two touchdowns.
“When our initial pressure was getting to him, (it was) great,” Caruso said. “When it wasn’t, and they were flushing the pocket, our secondary pressure was getting to him.”
Quarterback Kyler Anderson relieved O’Connell with 5:24 remaining in the game. Anderson didn’t take long to put his name in the scoresheet, finding Allen on a screen pass for his second touchdown catch of the day. The 29-yard reception put ahead St. Thomas 35-14.
A late 36-yard touchdown reception by Asp, his second of the game, cemented the Tommies’ 35-21 victory.
While finishing the season on a high note, Caruso said his team’s physical energy heading into the NCAA playoffs is a bit “different.”
“When you’re facing teams you don’t play all the time, momentum sometimes doesn’t matter as much,” Caruso said. “A lot of teams going into the playoffs go in with momentum; that’s why they’re there.”
That’s where the Tommies will be too when the NCAA playoffs start next Saturday. St. Thomas will find out its opponent Sunday evening.
Whoever the Tommies face, Caruso feels his team will be ready.
“What you’ve seen out of our playoff experience should certainly bode well for us,” Caruso said.
Ross Schreck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.