ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - St. Thomas coach Glenn Caruso choked up in the postgame press conference, thoughts drifting to time spent with his football team.
Only Caruso wasn’t lamenting the end. His voice broke because he was appreciating the chance to get one more week with his Tommies.
Jordan Roberts ran for 256 yards and three touchdowns to help No. 4 St. Thomas (Minn.) beat second-ranked Linfield (Oregon) 38-17 on Saturday to advance to the Division III championship for the second time in four years.
“We’re not about trophies, we’re not about wins, we’re about being the best we can be and being together for one more week,” Caruso said. “That’s why we fight. And to know that this group took it all the way to the end, regardless of what happens, is a blessing that I’ll never ever forget.”
Jack Kaiser added two first quarter touchdown runs and St. Thomas (14-0) ran for 389 yards against Linfield. The Tommies will face top-ranked Mount Union in Friday’s Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl in Salem, Virginia.
Linfield (12-1) committed five turnovers, including a fumble and interception in the first quarter as St. Thomas built a 20-0 lead.
“The way the game started was horrendous for us,” Wildcats coach Joe Smith said. “It wasn’t how we scripted it. Certainly got to feel like we were not ready to play; I take all the blame for that. We did not come out ready to meet their physical prowess.”
Roberts set a school record with 1,957 rushing yards this season and established a new conference mark with 34 touchdowns. He set a career-best for rushing in a single game.
“We give him an inch, he takes a mile,” said offensive tackle David Simmet, who is one of 12 players to play in the 2012 game. “We’ve had some great running backs in the past too, but really it’s so much fun blocking for Jordan.”
Roberts transferred from FCS-level South Dakota to St. Thomas so he can attend the school’s seminary. Now, with a running style he says he developed from watching former NFL great Walter Payton, he has the school in the championship game.
“(Payton) had this motto ‘Never die easy,’” Roberts said. “From a very young age I tried to emulate that and I still run like that today. I never want to go down easy. I never want to die easy.”
Sam Riddle came off the bench to throw two touchdown passes in the second half for Linfield, which has lost in the semifinals the past two seasons.
Riddle, who was the Northwest Conference offensive player of the year, was dealing with an ankle injury. Tom Knecht started Saturday after leading Linfield to a win the previous week with 492 passing yards and five touchdowns.
With St. Thomas returning to the Stagg Bowl, just three teams in 11 years have made the Division III championship game. Wisconsin-Whitewater had won back-to-back titles.
Mount Union (14-0), which beat Wisconsin-Whitewater 36-6 earlier Saturday, beat St. Thomas in the 2012 championship.
“We don’t deal in hatred or revenge, that’s not us,” Caruso said. “That’s not who we are.”
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