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Football's comeback bid comes up one play short

Photo by Chico LaBarbera
Photo by Chico LaBarbera

No. 6-ranked St. Thomas was unable to convert the tying two-point conversion pass with seven seconds left and lost 21-19 at UW-Eau Claire in non-conference football play Saturday night in Eau Claire.

St. Thomas (2-1) never led and trailed 14-0 just six plays into the game. The Toms took only their second regular-season non-conference defeat in 12 seasons under Glenn Caruso (22-2). Both losses came by three or less points on the road to WIAC teams.

Leading 21-13 in the final 3:00, the Blugolds (2-1) appeared in control after they punted, pinned UST deep, and subsequently stopped the opponent on four plays from the Tommies' seven-yard line.

The host team took over at the Tommie eight-yard line, ran the ball three times for one yard, while St. Thomas used its three timeouts to stay alive.

But Eau Claire missed a 25-yard field goal with 2:19 remaining, and St. Thomas junior QB Tommy Dolan led an 80-yard scoring drive with no timeouts using 2:12 on the clock.

Dolan converted a third-down situation with 13 seconds to go, then connected with Gabe Green with just seven seconds left on a 30-yard TD pass near the front corner of the end zone. That pulled the Purple within two at 21-19.

But Dolan's two-play pass to tie the game and likely force overtime was knocked down over the middle. That let the Blugolds hold on for the upset and their first football win over St. Thomas in eight all-time meetings.

Early in the fourth quarter, Dolan's one-yard run cut the deficit to 21-13. The Toms faked on their PAT kick formation and threw an incomplete pass to keep the deficit at eight.


Slow start

St. Thomas fell behind 14-0 just six plays and 1:25 into the game. A 77-yard opening kickoff return by Keshaun Story, a 24-yard scoring run by Austin Belot, a recovered fumble on the first Tommie offensive play, and a 29-yard TD pass on the second play by UWEC put St. Thomas two touchdowns behind.

The Toms pulled within 14-7 after driving 58 yards, then appeared to score a second TD midway early in the second quarter on a short screen pass, but that was nullified by a lineman-downfied penalty. The Toms had the first of two field goals on the night miss to close that drive with no points.

Belot's 77-yard scoring run -- the only scoring in the second or third quarter -- put UWEC ahead 21-7.

The Tommies gained 25 first downs and ran 103 plays, including a 26-of-60 passing night for Dolan, making just his third college start. He passed for 313 yards, including Green's 10 catches for 162 yards, and Vinny Pallini's six receptions for 85 yards.

Josh Parks rushed 22 times for 96 yards and one TD, and Tom Loeffler added 74 rushing yards and 15 receiving yards.

The St. Thomas defense allowed no points and one first down on the second half, forcing six punts and a field-goal try. They also limited the host team to 1-of-14 on third- and fourth-down conversions on the game. Jack Foley had a tackle for loss and an interception, and Alex Taylor had 12 tackles. The Blugolds finished with six first downs and 205 yards of total offense.

But the Blugolds had four sacks, four first-half takeaways, and had several key stops on the night to help deny the Tommies.

St. Thomas is home next Saturday to face Concordia-Moorhead (2-2, 2-0).