MORRIS, Minn. (csssaints.com) – What a day for the St. Scholastica football team. First the Saints had to hang on and defeat the University of Minnesota Morris Cougars 28-21. Then they were randomly drawn out of three teams to represent the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference (UMAC) in the NCAA Division III Playoffs for the second consecutive year.
The day began with Northwestern College controlling its own destiny for capturing the conference title outright and securing the UMAC automatic qualifier. The Saints needed to defeat Morris and Greenville College (Ill.) to defeat Northwestern, setting up a three-way tie.
The Saints chances were not looking good in the third quarter of both games. The Eagles held a 16-7 lead with seven minutes left in the quarter, while the Saints saw their 21-0 lead slip away and were tied 21-21 at the end of the quarter.
Greenville then took control at Northwestern scoring touchdowns on three of its next four possessions as it went on to defeat the Eagles 27-16. The Panthers were then in the driver seat if the Saints were to lose to the Cougars.
With the Saints up 21-6 at halftime, both teams would be stopped on their first possession of the second half. However, the Saints would fumble the Morris punt, giving the Cougars new life. Morris would get into the end zone for the first time in the game when Derrick Foss connected with Brendon Foss for a 12-yard touchdown. The two connected again on the 2-point conversion to make the score 21-14.
CSS would be forced to punt on its next possession and on the first play for Morris Dan Garrigan threw a 41-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Peterson. The point-after tied the game at 21-21. That is how the third quarter ended.
After the teams exchanged punts, Morris had the ball at its own 20-yard-line when Mike LaValley picked up an interception. However, the Saints gave it back on a fumble three plays later.
After a Morris punt it was the Jake Jensen show on the ground. The Saints marched 69 yards on 15 plays with Jensen carrying the ball 12 times for 52 yards. The drive was capped off on a Tyler Harper to Nick Thiry 10-yard touchdown pass. Mike Theismann's extra point made the score 28-21 with 1:55 remaining.
The Cougars wouldn't be dead yet. Morris would convert a fourth-and-17 at its own 26 to stay alive. The Cougars drove the ball down to the CSS 18-yard-line, but with 14 seconds left and fourth-and-12, Garrigan's pass would fall incomplete and the Saints went on to win 28-21.
With the win, the Saints captured a share of the conference championship and set up a three-team random draw between Greenville, Northwestern and St. Scholastica on who would represent the conference in the NCAA playoffs.
UMAC Commissioner Corey Borchardt conducted the drawing which consisted of three pieces paper being picked out of a box at random. Just after 5:30 this evening, Borchardt drew the name via live web cast with the name "College of St. Scholastica" on it, meaning the Saints are headed to the NCAA Division III playoffs for the second consecutive year.
Back to the Morris game, the Saints were up 21-0 with 11 minutes left in the second quarter. Harper found Cory Gebhard for a 10-yard touchdown reception on CSS's first possession of the game. Thomas Fragale scored on a 1-yard touchdown with 4:27 left in the first quarter. Harper found Gebhard again for a 17-yard touchdown pass early in the second quarter to make it 21-0. The Cougars had a couple of field goals before halftime.
The Saints outgained the Cougars 359-340, including 190-52 on the ground. Jensen ran for 124 yards on 24 carries. Harper was 16-of-27 through the air for 169 yards and three touchdowns. Gebhard had seven receptions for 78 yards and two scores.
Alec French led the team with nine tackles. Keaton Rush and Zack Dubanoski each had eight tackles, including Dubanoski's 2.5 tackles for a loss and a sack.
There is still one week left in the regular season for Division III football with the Saints having a bye week next week. The Saints (8-2, 7-1 UMAC) won't know who or where they will play until next Sunday night (November 11).