St. Thomas, Linfield wage epic battle

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Willy Baregi
Willy Baregi holds up the ball after falling on the game-ending fumble, securing St. Thomas' 24-17 double-overtime win.
Photo by Ryan Coleman, d3photography.com

No. 4 St. Thomas forced and recovered a Linfield fumble inside the 5-yard line to end the game and claim a 24-17, double-overtime victory over No. 8 Linfield in Saturday's NCAA second-round Division III playoff game at UST's O'Shaughnessy Stadium.

The Tommies (12-0), who never trailed, won a school-record 12th game and avenged a 31-20 loss to the Wildcats in last December's playoff quarterfinals in McMinnville, Ore. Box score

The Tommies will play conference rival Bethel next Saturday at noon at O'Shaughnessy Stadium in the quarterfinal round.

Bethel (11-1) won its second consecutive road game with a 15-10 decision over host Wheaton. It's the first time two Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference teams have reached the national quarterfinals in the same football season.

UST had a 316-282 edge in total offense. Linfield missed second-half and OT field goals of 30, 33 and 47 yards and came away with no points on two possessions in the overtimes.

UST overcame five turnovers on the day and held the Wildcats well under their season averages of 43 points and 471 yards. Linfield rushed 31 times for a net 56 yards.

St. Thomas sacked Boehme four times. Tommy Becker had 10 tackles, including a sack and 2.5 tackles for loss. Tony Danna had an interception and six tackles. Freshman Harry Pitera had two sacks.

Down to its last play, Linfield scored with 17 seconds left in regulation on a fourth-down pass of seven yards from Aaron Boehme to Buddy Saxon. The PAT kick tied the game 17-17.

UST won the coin toss and chose to play defense. After a 5-yard procedure penalty, Linfield had three incompletions, then missed a 47-yard field goal try. But UST fumbled on the first play of its possession and the Wildcats recovered.

In the second overtime, Tommie quarterback Dakota Tracy ad-libbed on a broken play and hit Fritz Waldvogel running across of the back of the end zone for a 10-yard TD. Tim Albright's PAT made it 24-17.

On the third play of Linfield's possession, the Cats had 1st-and-10 from the 12. Taylor Avritt rushed inside the 10 but was hit and stripped by UST's Brady Ervin at the seven. Willy Baregi recovered at the 4-yard-line -- his fourth fumble recovery of the season -- to seal the victory.

The Tommies had gone 10 quarters without a turnover before throwing three interceptions in the second quarter. Linfield took advantage of short fields after the first two pickoffs to score a TD and field goal. That forged a 10-10 halftime tie.

Fritz Waldvogel
Fritz Waldvogel celebrates his touchdown catch at the back of the end zone in overtime.
Photo by Ryan Coleman, d3photography.com

UST drove 80 yards in 11 plays early in the fourth quarter to take a 17-10 lead. Tobin's 12-yard dash to the right corner capped the drive.

Waldvogel had 136 all-purpose yards on 14 touches, including 93 yards on seven catches. Tracy rushed for 46 yards and passed for 160. Ben Wartman rushed for 51 yards, and Colin Tobin rushed 17 times for 45 yards, including TD runs of 1 and 12 yards.

The Tommies ran their home win streak to 15 games. Overall, they've won 12 in a row and 18 of their last 19 games. They edged Bethel 10-6 at home five weeks ago. Linfield had won 21 of its last 23 games coming in.

Deidre Wiersma has eight catches for 94 yards, and Chris Slezak had eight receptions for 66 yards and a TD. The Wildcats were led on defense by Christian Hanna, who had seven solos and a 50-yard interception return that set up LC's first touchdown; Drew Fisher, who had two interceptions; and Sam Higgins, who had a sack and a tackle for loss among his nine tackles.

NOTES -- Linfield had scored in 28 consecutive quarters coming into Saturday but was shut out in the first and third quarters... The Cats played most of the game without injured senior RB Simon Lamson... The game tied for the second longest in D-III postseason history. Only one of the 20 all-time overtime games has gone to three overtimes... UST had lost three consecutive overtime games prior to winning both of its extended games thus far in 2010 (at St. John's, Linfield)... The Tommies converted on all four scoring opportunities inside the red zone... Coach Glenn Caruso improved to 30-5 in his three seasons at UST, including a 17-1 home record... The five turnovers equalled the most in three seasons of the Caruso era, matching last season's output in the playoff loss at Linfield... UST had four turnovers on Oct. 2 in the overtime 27-26 win at St. John's... The Nos. 1-2-3-4-5-6 and 14-ranked teams and one unranked team are still alive... Coincidentally, Bethel will host St. Thomas next Saturday afternoon in a 1 p.m. women's and men's basketball doubleheader... UST has led in the second half or overtime of 34 of the 35 games in the Caruso era -- the exception was the 2009 playoff loss at Linfield.

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