Schnepf: St. Thomas likely ends Cobbers postseason hopes again

MOORHEAD - The beat goes on for the St. Thomas football team. And ... drum roll please ... Concordia could have its fourth straight 8-2 season with no playoffs to show for it.

Brandon Zylstra of Concordia carries against St. Thomas during their football game Saturday, Oct. 31, 2015, in Moorhead. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

MOORHEAD – The beat goes on for the St. Thomas football team. And ... drum roll please ... Concordia could have its fourth straight 8-2 season with no playoffs to show for it.

"8-2 is just not good enough," Concordia senior wide receiver Brandon Zylstra said after he and his teammates suffered their eighth straight loss to St. Thomas with a 38-14 setback Saturday afternoon at Jake Christianson Stadium.

Yes, if Concordia wins its final regular-season game at Gustavus next week, that would be four straight 8-2 seasons. And unless Concordia gets some unexpected help, it will not be a part of the NCAA Division III playoffs for the fourth straight season.

That's just the way Division III football is. Unlike other divisions where 8-2 would assure a team of a playoff spot or a bowl game, Division III has a playoff formula that-even in the mind of St. Thomas head coach Glenn Caruso-keeps some of the best teams out of postseason play.

There are 25 conference champions and one independent that automatically qualify for the 32-team Division III playoffs. That leaves six spots for the remaining teams-usually for second-place teams in high-power conferences like the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.


The powers that be of Division III football like all the regions of the country to be represented in the playoffs. So it's rare-if ever at all-that a third-place MIAC team like Concordia will ever be invited into the playoffs.

"It's overly democratic in my opinion," Caruso said, adding that the 2012 Cobbers team his national runner-up team beat should've been in the playoffs. "Concordia would've rolled over 30 percent of the playoff field. But that's the way the system is and it's unfortunate."

Ever since Caruso took over as head coach of St. Thomas in 2008, he has become a thorn in the side of Horan's Cobber program that arguably is one of the best non-playoff teams in the country. After leading St. Thomas to a semifinal appearance in 2011 and a championship-game appearance in 2012, the Tommies have suddenly replaced St. John's as the team to beat in the MIAC.

Caruso has not only built an 81-13 record, but an empire-taking advantage of a school enrollment of 12,000 and its location in the heart of the Twin Cities. The athletic facilities are second-to-none in Division III-including a 5,000-seat football stadium that boasts the largest video board in Division III.

"Even back when I played, they were as talented as anybody but could never get it all put together," said Concordia head coach Terry Horan, an All-American receiver for the Cobbers from 1985 to 1988. "These teams now don't unravel."

Like Saturday, when Concordia jumped out to a quick 7-0 lead. And it appeared St. Thomas, which had been outscoring its opponents 56-7 on average this season, would be nursing a 15-7 halftime lead. But in the final two minutes of the second quarter, the Tommies pounced and scored two touchdowns to take a 28-7 halftime lead.

Game over. Playoff hopes, barring a miracle, over.

"Hopefully, they (Concordia) make the playoffs," said St. Thomas running back Jordan Roberts, who had a season-high 254 yards from scrimmage against the Cobbers. "This is a very good football team and we knew that."


Problem is, this may very well be Caruso's best St. Thomas team. The Tommies piled up 552 total yards while limiting Concordia to 179 total yards. The Tommies' unrelentless defense had eight quarterback sacks. And then there was Roberts-who transferred from South Dakota to join the seminary school at St. Thomas.

"I don't know a lot of priests who run the 'iso' like he does," Caruso said of the 6-foot, 220-pound Roberts who averaged nearly 6 yards per carry Saturday. "He's a beast. It's pretty awesome to watch him in action."

So that perfect game Horan was hoping out of his Cobbers did not happen Saturday. And that long-awaited win over St. Thomas did not happen. And, as a result, that invitation to the playoff probably won't happen either.

"A lot of teams in the country want to be 8-2 and everybody is smiling with 8-2, and we would be too," Horan said. "We just want to finish on a win and see what happens."

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