EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (Blugolds.com) – Despite leading by 11 points with less than four minutes to play, the UW-Eau Claire football gave up a couple of costly plays at the end of the game in a 27-24 loss to eighth-ranked University of St. Thomas (Minn.) in the season opener at Carson Park today.
Eau Claire, which had never faced St. Thomas previously, trailed just once before the final four minutes of the contest.
St. Thomas scored on the first drive of the game after the Blugolds fumbled the opening kickoff, giving the Tommies the ball on the Eau Claire 29 yard line. But Eau Claire answered on the very next drive as Austin Goetsch (Sr.-Waunakee, Wis.) caught a 35-yard touchdown pass from Austin Neu (Sr.-Iron Ridge, Wis./Hustisford) to tie the game 7-7.
From there, the Blugolds built a 17-7 lead after a Joe Poulin (So.-Roberts, Wis./St. Croix Central) rushing touchdown and a Josh Albrecht (Sr.-Eau Claire, Wis./North) 34-yard field goal, but the Tommies put three more points on the board just before halftime with a 32-yard field goal to make the score 17-10.
In the third quarter, St. Thomas kicked another field goal, that one from 33 yards out, making the score 17-13.
Joel Sweeney (Jr.-Tomah, Wis.), who finished the game with 104 yards on 27 carries, opened the fourth quarter with a one-yard touchdown run and Albrecht tacked on the extra point to give Eau Claire a 24-13 lead.
But with four minutes on the clock, the Tommies converted on a 4th-and-1 from their own 49 and then followed with a 49-yard touchdown pass on the next play. After a successful two-point conversion, the Tommies trailed by just three (24-21).
The Blugolds got the ball back but a on the very first play, Blugold quarterback Neu, under pressure, threw the ball up and St. Thomas' Tyler Erstad came down with it. The Tommies then used just three plays to march 55 yards and scored what proved to be in the winning touchdown.
Both teams were plagued with penalties and poor ball handling the entire day. Eau Claire had eight penalties, four fumbles, only one of which was lost, and threw two interceptions. St. Thomas was flagged 13 times and lost two fumbles.
Neu finished with 196 yards passing and Eau Claire totaled 283 yards of offense. St. Thomas had 418 yards of offense, 152 on the ground and 266 in the air.
Sean Graham (Jr.-Hales Corners, Wis./Whitnall) and Jake Safstrom (Jr.-Grafton, Wis.) each had sacks for Eau Claire while Mitch Olson (So.-New Auburn, Wis./Chi-Hi) and Scott Burzynski (Jr.-Stanley, Wis./Stanley-Boyd) recovered fumbles.
Eau Claire will be at home again next Saturday to face Saint John's University (Minn.). Kickoff is set for 1 p.m.