ST. PAUL, Minn. – The Elmhurst football team's outstanding 2012 season came to a close after dropping a 24-17 decision to fourth-ranked University of St. Thomas in the second round of the NCAA Playoffs.
Elmhurst came storming out of the gate, scoring the game's first 14 points, but St. Thomas (12-0) used a pair of big plays to close the first half on a 21-0 run and open up a 21-14 lead at the break.
"There are certain games that come down to one play here or there," said Elmhurst head coach Tim Lester. "Today's game fit that description. I give St. Thomas a lot of credit, they made the big plays when they needed to and got the job done.
"We were able to take advantage of some shots down the field a few times today," said Lester. "We know St. Thomas has a great defense, but we took advantage of a few match-ups and found some openings."
St. Thomas answered back at the end of the first quarter. The Tommies drove 74 yards in just seven plays Braddock capped the drive with a one-yard touchdown plunge to cut the Elmhurst lead in half.
After an Elmhurst punt, the Tommies knotted the score on just one play. Matt O'Connell connected on an 88-yard strike down the middle to Matt Misiewicz to pull the Tommies even at 14-14. Elmhurst appeared to be on the verge of going back on top as the Bluejays drove down inside the Tommies' 10-yard line. On a first-and-goal from the St. Thomas six-yard line, a botched pitch on an option play was recovered by the Tommies' Ayo Idowu. Idowu rumbled 86 yards to the end zone to put the Tommies on top 21-14.
"The St. Thomas cornerback made a great play," said Lester. "He was able to get in to the backfield and hit Scottie before the pitch got to him. We were close to recovering the fumble, but it just bounced back to St. Thomas. Sometimes the bounces go your way and sometimes they don't."
Trailing 21-14 to open the second half, the Bluejays received the opening kick in the third quarter and promptly cut into the Tommies' lead. Aided by a roughing the kicker penalty on St. Thomas, the Bluejays drove down to the Tommies' 10-yard and settled for a 27-yard field goal from David Tomis to make the score 21-17.
St. Thomas answered back with a 17-play scoring drive. The Tommies kept the drive alive by converting on third down on three occasions, including twice on third-and-long. St. Thomas drove to the Elmhurst 11-yard line and went up 24-17 on a 28-yard field goal from Gaupner.
Elmhurst had several chances to even the score in the fourth quarter, but the Bluejays were turned away by the Tommies' defense three times. After Gaupner's field goal, the Bluejays drove to the St. Thomas 30-yard line before turning the ball over on downs after failing to convert and a fourth-and-10. Elmhurst's defense held St. Thomas to a three-and-out and Elmhurst drove the ball down to the Tommies' 16-yard line before coming up short on a fourth-and-six pass play.
Elmhurst's defense forced St. Thomas to punt on fourth down allowing the Bluejays one final drive. Elmhurst took over at their own 20-yard line with 1:17 left on the clock and no timeouts left. St. Thomas stopped the Bluejays' on a fourth-and-seven attempt from the Elmhurst 23-yard line and then ran out the clock to preserve the win.
"Our defense has always played well with our backs to the wall," said Elmhurst cornerback Jamall Lane. "We made some key stops when we needed to, but it just wasn't enough today."
Elmhurst finished the contest with 368 yards of offense and 20 first downs, running 70 plays at St. Thomas. The Bluejays proved they could run against the Tommmies' defense, rushing 41 times for 174 yards. Williams rushed 25 times for 105 yards to close out his career with over 2,000 yards on the season and over 5,100 in his career.
"This was a special season for us," said Williams. "I told people four years ago when we were freshman that Elmhurst was going to win a league championship and we did that. My offensive line was amazing this year and I wouldn't trade a single one of them."
Furco finished 14-of-29 through the air for 194 yards. Corey Thonn caught three passes for 44 yards while Gabys hauled in two passes for 82 yards.
St. Thomas totaled 387 yards of offense, rushing for 186 and passing for 201. O'Connell finished 11-of-14 for 201 yards and a touchdown while also rushing for 90 yards. Braddock totaled 91 yards on the ground on 18 carries for the Tommies. Dan Ferrazzo caught six passes for 70 yards to lead the Tommies' receivers.
Lester is proud of all that the Bluejays accomplished in 2012. Elmhurst finished the season with a 10-2 overall record and won a share of their first league championship since the 1980 season while also becoming the first team in school history to participate in the NCAA Playoffs and win an NCAA playoff game. The Bluejays also earned their first-ever national rankings, climbing to 17th in the final regular season D3football.com poll.
"At the beginning of the season, I told them that this was the 93rd season of Elmhurst football and that every year is remembered differently," Lester said. "We accomplished so much this season, that I don't think people are going to forger number 93 any time soon. We may have lost today, but I told our team in the locker room after the game was over to not hang their heads. They played their hearts out this whole season and should be proud of they accomplished."