St. Thomas advanced to the NCAA Division III playoff quarterfinals for the fourth consecutive year with a 24-17 home win over Elmhurst on Saturday in O'Shaughnessy Stadium.
The No. 4 Tommies (12-0) will host Hobart (12-0), a 35-10 winner over Wittenberg, at noon Saturday, Dec. 1, for the right to return to the NCAA semifinals.
St. Thomas faced its largest deficit of the season at 14-0 after two early Elmhurst scores, but responded with three straight touchdowns to lead 21-14 at halftime. The teams traded field goals in the third quarter, and St. Thomas stopped the Bluejays on three fourth-down plays in the fourth quarter.
Elmhurst, which had a seven-game winning streak halted, was limited to three points over the final 48:00 on the clock. St. Thomas (393 yards) and Elmhurst (391 yards) had near identical total yards.
With the win, Coach Glenn Caruso moved into sole possession of second place with 55 career victories at St. Thomas against just seven losses, and can tie Frank Deig for the top spot with a win over Hobart. Deig was 56-37-2 from 1946 to 1957.
The Tommies used one big play – a 51-yard run by quarterback Matt O'Connell – to set up Brenton Braddock's one-yard touchdown run. They also scored on their two longest plays of the season – an 88-yard pass from O'Connell to Matt Misiewicz and an 86-yard fumble return by senior defensive lineman Ayo Idowu -- the first collegiate touchdowns for both players. Misiewicz' TD catch was the third longest in school history and longest at O'Shaughnessy Stadium in 14 years.
The teams traded field goals in the third quarter, with Paul Graupner's 28-yarder giving the Tommies a 24-17 lead. The field goal came after the Tommies longest drive of the year in terms of plays (17) and time (8:27), as they converted four straight third-down plays.
In the fourth quarter, Elmhurst drove to the St. Thomas 30- and 16-yard lines but was stopped both times on downs. The Bluejays' final drive also ended on downs, at their own 23.
O'Connell finished with 288 yards of total offense, including 201 passing on 11 of 14 completions and 85 rushing. Braddock, just a freshman, had 100 net yards rushing on 18 caries, his third consecutive game at 100 or more yards.
Scottie Williams, the Bluejays' career-leading rusher, ran for 118 yards and finished the season with 2,046 yards. He was only the third opposing back to run for more than 100 yards against the Tommies, who came into the game ranked No. 6 in Division III in allowing only 66 rushing yards per game. Elmhurst ran 75 plays and gained 391, the most St. Thomas surrendured all season. QB Joe Furco completed 17 of 32 passes for 211 yards.
St. Thomas has won 16 November games in a row, including an 8-0 run in that month in the NCAA playoffs. The Tommies are 32-2 in O'Shaughnessy Stadium during Caruso's five-year tenure, including 15 wins in a row.