|UPDATED 6:05 p-m 11/21/09 One of the best football seasons in Monmouth College history came grinding to a halt as visiting St. Thomas, ranked No. 10 in the nation, delivered key plays on special teams, used a punishing ground game to control the clock and posted a second-half shutout to defeat the Fighting Scots 43-21.
Two special teams plays, in particular, helped the Tommies stay in control of the game after the Scots had grabbed an early 7-0 lead. The first came at the 9:37 mark of the second quarter. The Tommies blocked Shane Reschke's punt and Tyler Erstad scooped up the loose pigskin in stride, taking it 22 yards for a touchdown to make the score 20-7.
The Scots answered quickly on a 45-yard touchdown pass from Alex Tanney to Mike Blodgett, but the Tommies grabbed the momentum right back when Fritz Waldvogel returned the ensuing kickoff 71 yards to set St. Thomas up at the Monmouth 21. Four plays later, Ben Wartman's 5-yard TD run made the score 27-14.
Wartman was hard to bring down all game, winding up with 177 yards on 29 carries. Colin Tobin added 86 more on 10 tries as the Tommies outgained the Scots 320-30 on the ground.
In addition to the two big special teams plays, St. Thomas also got three season-long field goals from kicker Brady Beeson. His previous best was 31 yards, but Beeson booted scoring kicks of 37, 41 and 42 yards, helping St. Thomas score on eight of nine possessions.
Monmouth, meanwhile, would not score again after a 28-yard TD reception by Steve Zidow made the score 27-21 with 5:50 left in the first half. In the fourth quarter, the Scots were stopped on downs twice inside the red zone.
"We had some special teams miscues," said Monmouth coach Steve Bell. "They had the long kickoff return and the punt that they blocked. Mistakes like that are going to hurt you every time."
"In the second half, we had three opportunities to score, and we just didn't make the plays to end the drives. Sports are kind of funny - either you do or you don't, and we didn't do it today," Bell said.
Tanney finished the day 35-of-51 for 361 yards and two scores. Zidow was his top target, catching nine passes for 112 yards. Matt Shepherd finished with 58 yards to become the first Monmouth receiver to surpass the 1,000-yard mark in a season. Tanney also eclipsed the 10,000-yard career passing milestone and will enter next season with 10,158 passing yards.
"We knew they'd bring pressure off the edge. We knew it was coming, but they still got to me a few times," said Tanney of the Tommies' defense. Tanney was sacked three times and was forced to throw the ball away on four or five other plays.
Monmouth's defense was led by two members of its secondary, Luke Reschke and Sean Wells, who each made 15 tackles.
Sccots' senior defensive lineman Anthony Goranson was naturally disappointed with the outcome. "We had a lot of missed tackles. We've got to finish. We've just got to wrap up, and we didn't do that today."
St. Thomas held a 38:21 to 21:39 edge in time of possession and kept the Scots' high tempo offense to just 75 plays, 12 below their season average.
St. Thomas coach Glen Caruso says a special teams play was the turning point in the game. "In hindsight, I think it (the blocked punt) was. There's a very effective stat that shows that you win 85 percent of the games when you're able to block a punt. If you had to boil it down to one play, that was probably as pivotal a play as any."
Caruso was pleased with how his defense played in the second half, allowing St. Thomas to pull away and move on to the second round.
"We made some schematic adjustments at halftime. Our defensive coaches did a fantastic job."
(Contributions from Monmouth College Athletics)