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MIAC Football - NCAA Playoffs: Tommies Roll, Johnnies Upended
MIAC Football - NCAA Playoffs: Tommies Roll, Johnnies Upended
by Rich Mies, CSN Mapping the MIAC Columnist
The Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference had mixed results in the opening round of the NCAA Division III playoffs, as league champion Saint John’s was upended by Coe College 34-27 while runner-up St. Thomas cruised to a 43-21 win over previously unbeaten Monmouth College. With the win, UST advances to the second round, where it will tangle with the Kohawks, rather than squaring off against their arch-nemesis.
ST. THOMAS 43, MONMOUTH 21
The Tommies reached the 10-win plateau for the first time in school history with a solid 43-21 win over the Fighting Scots in Monmouth, IL. It was UST’s first trip to the NCAA playoffs since 1990.
The Tommies followed their normal route to the win, with a stellar outing by running back Ben Wartman mixed with big plays from Fritz Waldvogel and a stout performance by the defense. Wartman rushed for 177 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Waldvogel had 10 catches for 96 yards and a touchdown. He also had a 71-yard kickoff return. The defense held Monmouth to 30 yards rushing, while notching three sacks. They recovered a fumble and blocked a pair of kicks, including a punt that was returned for a touchdown.
Monmouth got on the board first on a one-yard run by Clay Bricker early in the first quarter to take a 7-0 lead.
St. Thomas responded with a six-play drive that was punctuated by a four-yard TD run by Colin Tolbert to tie the score.
On its ensuing possession, Monmouth’s drive was halted when UST’s Kirk Baglien forced a fumble by Mike Blodgett. The Tommies’ Zach Sturm scoped up the ball and returned it 26 yards before being dragged down at the MC 46 yard line. Nine plays later, Dakota Tracy fired a pass to Waldvogel for a nine-yard touchdown, giving UST a 14-7 lead.
Four plays later, UST’s defense forced Monmouth to punt from its own territory. Kris Kopp blocked the kick, and Tyler Erstad recovered the ball at the Monmouth 22. He scooped it up and dashed into the end zone for a TD. The PAT was blocked, but St. Thomas held a 20-7 lead.
The Fighting Scots needed just two plays to get back on the board. Alex Tanney connected with Blodgett on a 45-yard bomb to cut the gap to 20-14.
Waldvogel, who leads all Divisions in kicks returned for TDs with six, fielded the ensuing kickoff and scampered 71 yards before being pulled down a the Monmouth 21. Three snaps later, Wartman bulldozed in from five yards out, to make it 27-14.
Tanney teamed up with Steve Zidow for a 28-yard scoring play to pull the Fighting Scots within six, but UST’s Brady Beeson split the uprights for a 37-yard field goal with 18 seconds remaining in the first half to send the teams into the intermission with UST on top, 30-21.
Wartman reached pay dirt from two yards out on UST’s first drive of the second half. Beeson added field goals of 41- and 42-yards. Each of his three field goals established a new career long for Beeson, who matched his season’s output (three) in the game.
With the win, St. Thomas improves to 10-1 on the season. The Tommies will face Coe on Saturday in a game that is expected to be played at UST’s O’Shaughnessy Stadium. The NCAA will announce the game site on Sunday.
COE 34, SAINT JOHN’S 37
The Kohawks took advantage of six Johnnie turnovers to post their first win over SJU in four tries. Coe linebacker Calvin Thomas was the key, as he returned an interception 93 yards for one touchdown and later returned a fumble 76 yards for a TD.
“I needed a couple of oxygen tanks out there,” said a smiling Thomas after the game.
It was the first home loss in the first round for SJU since 1977 and the first home playoff loss since 1999.”My son, who played for us in 2002, said ‘Dad, this could be the greatest win in Coe history if we come up to Saint John’s and win’,” said Coach Steve Staker afterwards.
SJU held a 133-56 edge in rushing yardage and a 285-179 advantage in the air, but the six turnovers doomed them to their first loss of the season. Stephen Johnson rushed for 101 yards to lead the offense. Joe Boyle, who was under constant pressure by the Kohawks, completed 30-of-34 passes for 285 yards. He threw four TDs, but was sacked four times.
Coe drew first blood as quarterback Brad Boyle (no relation to SJU’s Joe) scored on a keeper from one yard out. Jeff Bohlman blocked the PAT, but Coe led 6-0.
SJU drove down to the Coe seven-yard line in the opening minutes of the second quarter. On third-and-goal, Thomas picked off a pass and ambled downfield 93 yards to put the Kohawks out front, 13-0.
The Johnnies retaliated with a quick eight-play scoring drive. Joe Boyle capped that drive by dodging intense pressure before being able to spot a wide-open Sam Pederson at the 10-yard line, He drilled a pass to Pederson who reeled it in and dashed into the end zone. That cut the Kohawks lead to 13-7.
Brad Boyle connected with Ryan Jones for a 10-yard touchdown late in the second quarter but Joe Boyle countered with as 58-yard scoring strike to Ben Vanderheyden. That sent the teams into the locker room with Coe leading 20-14.
Coe made it 27-14 midway through the third quarter. Brad Boyle spotted Michael Rozum open and hooked up with him for a 19-yard scoring play. Boyle was forced out of the game on Coe’s next possession with an apparent shoulder injury and is questionable for the Kohawks’ next game.
SJU pulled within a score in the waning moments of the third stanza as Joe Boyle connected with Andrew Rotschafer from seven yards out.
Joe Boyle was forced to the sidelines on SJU’s next possession. On the first play without Boyle, the Johnnies fumbled on the handoff attempt and the ball landed in the hands of Thomas, who raced 76 yards for his second TD.
Boyle returned for SJU and directed them to a final scoring drive, capping the drive with a two-yard toss to Kellen Blaser with 1:09 remaining on the clock. The Johnnies attempted an onside kick but Coe recovered the ball and ran out the clock.
Saint John’s closes its season 10-1, while Coe improves to 10-1. The Kohawks will get their third dose of MIAC football on Saturday, traveling to St. Thomas.