(CLEVELAND, Ohio) – The 12th-ranked Thomas More College football team claimed its seventh Presidents' Athletic Conference (PAC) title and an undefeated regular season today (Saturday, November 7, 2015) as it rallied to defeat 18th-ranked Case Western Reserve University at DiSanto Field in Cleveland, Ohio.
With the win, the Saints end the regular season 10-0 and 8-0 in the PAC. The undefeated regular season is the sixth in the program's 26-year history. With the PAC Championship the Saints claim the PAC's automatic bid to the 2015 NCAA Division III Playoffs. It will mark the seventh time that Thomas More will be making an appearance in the NCAA playoffs and first since the 2011 season. With the loss, the Spartans fall to 7-2 overall and 6-1 in the PAC.
Thomas More led 7-0 after one quarter and 14-13 at halftime and the Spartans led 26-21 after three quarters.
Thomas More took a 7-0 lead with 3:51 to play in the first quarter when freshman running back Hjavier Pitts (Cincinnati, Ohio/Mt. Healthy) scored on a two-yard run and senior kicker Tommy Budke (Cincinnati, Ohio/Colerain) added the point-after-attempt.
Case Western Reserve's Adam Hochman scored on a three-yard run and Ben Carniol made the PAT to tie the game at 7-7 with 13:08 to play in the second quarter.
Senior quarterback Jensen Gebhardt (Kings Mills, Ohio/Kings) recovered a Saints' fumble in the end zone for a touchdown with 11:18 to play in the second quarter and Budke added the PAT to give Thomas More a 14-7 lead.
Corniol made a 35-yard field goal with 9:00 to play in the second quarter and a 30-yard field goal with 3:29 to play in the first half to cut the Saints' lead to 14-13 at halftime.
Case Western Reserve took a 16-14 lead on a Carniol 20-yard field goal with 11:03 to play in the third quarter. Rob Cuda connected on a 46-yard touchdown pass to Bryan Erb and Carniol made the PAT for increase the Spartans lead to 23-17 with 9:05 to play in the third quarter. With 1:54 to play in the third quarter Carniol nailed a 19-yard field goal to extend the lead to 26-14.
The Saints cut the lead to 26-21 with 35-second to play in the third quarter when senior wide receiver Tyler Vogelpohl (Cincinnati, Ohio/LaSalle) scored on a 19-yard touchdown pass from Gebhardt and Budke added the PAT.
Thomas More took a 27-26 lead when Gebhardt connected on a five-yard pass to senior wide receiver Goose Cohorn (Independence, Ky./Dixie Heights) and the two-point conversation failed with 14:56 to play in the fourth quarter.
The Spartans retook the lead at 32-27 on a Cuda two-yard run with 10:13 to play in the fourth quarter. On Case Western Reserve's two-point try, Cuda fumbled the ball and senior linebacker Kyle Fuller (Taylor Mill, Ky./Holy Cross) returned the ball to the other end zone for two points and to cut the lead to 32-29.
Thomas More took a 36-32 lead with 5:17 to play in the game when freshman running back Luke Zajac (Edgewood, Ky./Dixie Heights) scored on a one-yard run and Budke added the PAT. On the ensuing drive sophomore defensive back Johnny Lammers (Cincinnati, Ohio/Elder) intercepted a Cuda pass and the Saints ran the clock out for the 36-32 victory.
Gebhardt finished the game 13-of-26 passing for 223 yards and two touchdowns, while Pitts led the team on the ground with 22 carries for 84 yards and one touchdown. Vogelpohl had six catches for 108 yards and a touchdown, while Cohorn had six catches for 104 yards and a touchdown.
The defense was led by sophomore linebacker Tre' Tunstill (Indianapolis, Ind./Ben Davis) with 10 catches (six solo, four assisted), including a half tackle, senior defensive lineman Erick Butler (Eminence, Ky./Henry County) with 10 tackles (five solo, five assisted), including one and a half sacks and two and a half tackles for a loss, a forced fumble and a fumble recovering and Lammers with 10 tackles (five solo, five assisted) and an interception. Fuller finished with nine tackles (seven solo, two assisted) and senior linebacker Nick Pennekamp (Cincinnati, Ohio/Elder) with eight tackles (four solo, four assisted), while senior defensive back Ian Gunn (Cincinnati, Ohio/Elder) had two interceptions.
The Saints, who are idle next week, will find out their opponent and location of their first round game next Sunday (November 15) at 6 p.m. with a selection show on the NCAA's Championship website (www.ncaa.com).