St. Thomas survived six turnovers as Matt O'Connell threw two touchdown passes and ran for a third to lead the Tommies to a 28-14 win over Gustavus Adolphus on Saturday in MIAC football play at chilly O'Shaughnessy Stadium.
The No. 4-rated Tommies (5-0, 3-0 MIAC), which had a school-record 12 sacks from 10 different players, never trailed in the game and used a stingy defense to hold off the Gusties (2-3, 1-3) for the second straight year in a close game on Palmer Field. St. Thomas prevailed last year 20-7.
The win sets up a showdown for first place next Saturday at St. Thomas against undefeated Bethel, rated No. 10 in Division III. The Royals scored on the last play of their game, with no time remaining, and converted a two-point PAT to edge previously unbeaten Concordia 15-14.
Junior linebacker Tremayne Williams came up with two key second-half turnovers for the Tommies, a third-quarter forced fumble and recovery, and a fourth-quarter interception that led to their final touchdown to seal the win after Gustavus had closed within 21-14. Williams also had a sack and four solo tackles.
It was the 29th regular-season win in a row for St. Thomas, which also has won 22 straight in the MIAC and 10 in a row at home.
Gustavus came into the game with the conference's No. 2-ranked rushing attack, but the Tommies sacked QB Muresuk Mena 12 times for 62 yards in losses. Mena finished at minus-22 yards net rushing after coming into the game with a 117-yard average. The Gusties, who came in averaging 253 rushing yards, had only 20 net yards in 41 attempts against the Tommies' defense, which started the day ranked No. 6 in Division III at 53.5 yards per game.
O'Connell's 367-yard total offense day included 147 yards on the ground, led by a 74-yard touchdown run. He completed 20 of 34 passes for 220 yards, two touchdowns with three interceptions.
St. Thomas scored a TD with five seconds left in the first half on a nine-yard O'Connell to Kyle Whitley pass. That capped a six-play, 43-yard drive that took just 38 seconds. The PAT kick let them take a 15-0 halftime lead. UST extended the lead to 21-0 on a 74-yard O'Connell touchdown dash just 1:44 into the third quarter.
Gustavus responded with a sack and forced fumble that Cory Colvard scooped and raced 53 yards to the end zone and a 21-7 deficit. Mena's six-yard TD pass to Phillip Butler early in the fourth quarter let the Gusties pull within seven points with 9:22 to play.
Williams' interception and a facemask penalty on the return set up the Tommies at the Gusties' 18-yard line and led to Brenton Braddock's clinching four-yard touchdown run with 5:51 left.