St. Thomas survived three turnovers and a stubborn Gustavus Adolphus defense to outlast the host Gusties 20-12 in MIAC football Saturday in St. Peter.
The No. 6-ranked Tommies (4-1 overall, 2-1 MIAC) never trailed and ran their conference road win streak to 15. But it was a struggle all day for their offense. In the end, they stopped the Gusties on four downs inside the 25 with 1:20 remaining to avert a potential overtime possibility.
St. Thomas limited Gustavus to 170 total yards, 20 on the ground in 29 attempts. Senior All-America linebacker Tremayne Williams had an interception and three tackles for loss (1.5 sacks) among his eight total solo tackles.
In the second quarter, St. Thomas lost junior quarterback Matt O'Connell to what appears to be a serious leg injury as he left the field on a stretcher. Sophomore Alex Fenske took over and led the Tommies on two second-half touchdown drives to hold on for the win. Jack Kaiser rushed for 87 yards on 19 carries.
Fenske, playing just his second varsity game, threw two second-half TD passes and finished 9-for-20 for 85 yards. The sophomore from Marshall, started the season No. 4 on the depth charts after being the No. 5 QB last season.
Junior TE Cole Kelly, who alertly grabbed a tipped pass in the end zone for the Tommies' final TD, was playing his first game of the season after coming off an injury. Kelly has two career receptions, both for touchdowns. He caught a five-yard TD pass last season against Bethel.
The Gusties had only one turnover but had some kicking-game errors that hurt. Standout running back Jeffrey DuBose had 101 yards of offense of 26 touches but averaged less than three yards on 21 carries.
St. Thomas struggled on its first three possessions, losing the ball twice on Brenton Braddock fumbles before putting together its only scoring drive of the first half.
The Tommies took over the ball at the Gustavus 45 and needed 10 plays and four minutes to take a 7-0 lead on an O'Connell sneak from the 1 and a Paul Graupner PAT kick. The touchdown came with 48 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
Gustavus responded with a 12-play, 61-yard drive to cut the St. Thomas lead to 7-6 but missed the extra point. The drive was aided by two 15-yard St. Thomas penalties and ended on quarterback Mitch Hendrick's two-yard scramble into the end zone on third down..
O'Connell was hurt on the next possession. The Tommies had the ball at the Gustavus 47 when the junior quarterback was hit on a first-down pass. Two sophomores –- first John Gould and then Fenske -– replaced O'Connell but had little success moving the ball.
St. Thomas had excellent field position in the first half, starting three drives in Gustavus territory, but could come away with only one scoring drive.
Fenske shined on the Tommies' second possession of the second half, capping a 50-play, six-yard drive with a 19-yard touchdown pass to freshman Nick Waldvogel and a 13-6 lead. They went for two points, to give them a two-score lead, but Waldvogel was stopped short of the end zone.
Gustavus drew within a point early in the fourth quarter on a 22-yard touchdown pass, but Sean Hamlin blocked the extra point to maintain the 13-12 lead. The Gusties needed only three plays to score after returning a Fenske interception to the St. Thomas 35.
A poor Gustavus punt set up the final St. Thomas touchdown. The Tommies took over at the Gusties' 35 and needed only six plays to score. Fenske's 3-and-6 pass at the Gustavus 11 was deflected by a defender and grabbed in the end zone by junior tight end Cole Kelly. Graupner's extra point made the score 20-12.
The Toms allowed a fourth-down conversion and later pass-interference penalty set up Gustavus with a first down at the UST 21. But the defense stiffened over the next four plays and allowed just one yard as UST came away with the win.
St. Thomas will stay on the road next Saturday and travel to Arden Hills to play fifth-ranked Bethel (5-0, 3-0 conference). The Royals handled No. 22 Concordia (4-1, 2-1) 45-22 in Moorhead.