MOORHEAD – St. Thomas clinched a tie for its third consecutive MIAC football championship and a spot in the NCAA Division III playoffs for the fourth straight year with a 21-7 win over Concordia on Saturday.
The No. 3 Tommies (9-0, 7-0) who ran their regular-season winning streaks to 33 overall and 26 in the conference, won the title outright after second-place Bethel lost 24-17 at St. Olaf. Its the first time since 1947-49 that St. Thomas has won three consecutive conference football crowns.
Matt O'Connell, coming off a leg injury that kept him out of last week's win over Augsburg, starred for St. Thomas against the No. 16 Cobbers (7-2, 5-2). He finished with 283 yards of offense (11/18 completions for 217 yards and 66 yards rushing), including 247 in the first half.
The Tommies' defense also came up big against one of the MIAC's premier offenses for the second time in four games. They shut out previously unbeaten Bethel 37-0 at Homecoming on Oct. 13 in O'Shaughnessy Stadium. In this game, a Cobber team averaging 38 points a game was held to 272 total yards and no points over the first 54 minutes.
St. Thomas opened scoring six minutes into the game after Tyler Erstad recovered a Brett Baune fumble near midfield. The Tommies marched 52 yards in seven plays to take a 7-0 lead on a 13-yard pass from O'Connell to Logan Marks on third and goal. Earlier in the drive on another long third down, O'Connell hit Jack Kaiser for 30 yards on a double reverse flea flicker pass to the Concordia 20.
Penalties and turnovers stalled promising back-to-back St. Thomas drives in the second quarter, but for the fourth time in five games the Tommies closed the first half with a late touchdown. They took over at their 36 at the 2:46 mark and nine plays later, with 14.7 seconds and no timeouts left, O'Connell hit Marks with a nine-yard touchdown and a 14-0 halftime lead.
St. Thomas jumped out to a three-touchdown lead late in the third quarter after a key defensive stop and a quick five-play scoring drive.
The Cobbers used 15 plays, took 6:37 off the clock and converted two fourth-and-one runs, but on a third fourth-down possession Ayo Idowu sacked Concordia quarterback Griffin Neal for a 16-yard loss. The Tommies took over at their 38 and five plays later Brenton Braddock ran it in from the 9 for a 21-0 lead.
Concordia averted a shutout with 5:06 remaining on a one-yard run by Brett Baune, the conference's second-leading rusher. He finished with 88 yards. Backup quarterback Mitch Tauer, who came into game early in the fourth quarter after an injury to starter Griffin Neal, had the key play in the drive – a 41-yard run on fourth down to the St. Thomas 3.
The Tommies won their 45th game in a row when they score 21 or more points.