ARDEN HILLS, Minn. – The Bethel University football team put together another complete performance, this time against a Top 10 ranked University of St. Thomas team, to win 21-15 at Royal Stadium. The Royals used a trio of huge plays to score their three touchdowns and the defense shut down the high powered Tommie offense. Bethel (9-1) jumped out to an early 14-0 lead halfway through the first quarter and maintained that lead all the way through, holding off the UST (8-2) attempt to pull out another last minute comeback as they had done last week at Gustavus. The win all but guarantees the Royals a spot in the NCAA Playoffs to start next Saturday as Bethel will garner one of five at-large berths nationwide.
Bethel received the opening kickoff and the Royals offense immediately went to work on the UST defense. It was strength on strength as the Royals looked to run the ball on a UST defense that came in allowing just 11 yards rushing per game, second in NCAA DIII. Bethel though was able to set the tone right away as an eight play, 80-yard drive was capped off when Sam Gibas popped a 41-yard touchdown run. The Bethel defense then forced a quick three-and-out for UST who punted the ball down to the Royals 17 yard line. The Tommies vaunted defense looked to put Bethel in a tough spot as the first play of the series resulted in a 10-yard loss on a sack of Roste. Bethel and Roste though responded when the freshman 6-3, 230-pounder found a seam on a QB draw and outraced the Tommies down the sideline all the way to the endzone; a 93-yard touchdown run. The rushing touchdowns were just the third and fourth touchdowns allowed on the ground all season by UST. Matthew Stone converted the PAT to put Bethel up 14-0 just 8:21 into the first quarter.
Bethel's own vaunted defense then went to work, showing they were the ones who would dominate the day. After Bethel forced another punt, UST was able to score their first touchdown before the end of the first quarter after a 7-play, 39-yard drive. A Jacques Perra to Gabe Green 15-yard connection in the corner of the endzone game the Tommies some life. The rest of the half however, saw the Bethel defense either intercept the Tommies or force punts, never allowing UST to register a first down.
Bethel threatened to score again in the second quarter, driving down inside the UST five-yard line, but a fourth down pass into the end zone was intercepted. Both teams would then trade punts the rest of the half. The third quarter was more of the same, both teams struggling to get offense going. The Tommies had the best drive of the quarter but their 13-play, 43-yard drive stalled at the Bethel 27-yard line on downs. UST had converted a third and seven and a fourth and four on the drive but a pass into the endzone was knocked down to end the threat. Near the end of the third quarter Bethel looked to have made the big play on offense that had been missing since the first quarter as Sam Gibas rattled off a 60-yard run down to the Bethel 27-yard line but the Royals where called for holding, bringing the play back. Bethel sprung another big play on the drive though when Roste found Andrew Cole on third and nine over the middle on a great throw and catch and Cole spun out of a tackle for a 23-yard gain but was stripped of the ball and UST recovered at their own 20-yard line.
Once again the Royals defense did not let UST gain on their newfound momentum, forcing a quick three-and-out early in the fourth quarter. St. Thomas had been punting on fourth down four previous times with their quarterback Jacques Perra lining up in the shotgun and then quick kicking to pin Bethel with no returner back. This time though, Bethel came up with the play of the game as senior defensive end Kyle Kilgore came flying through the center of the offensive line and blocked the punt sending the ball bouncing towards the Bethel endzone where Trent Substad was able to recover it for the Royals touchdown.
Now down 21-7 with just 12:47 remaining in the game, the UST offense attempted to start their comeback, putting together a 15-play, 66-yard drive converting a third and 13, a fourth and 10 and then a third and 14 on the drive. The Royals defense showed their meddle though, stopping the Tommies on fourth and 10 from the 16 with great pass defense by corners Trey Anderson and Tavian Swanson, giving Bethel the ball back with 5:38 remaining. The offense looked to burn some clock on their next drive and after a run for no yards and an incomplete pass the Royals faced a third and ten from their own 16-yard line and the clock stopped. On the third down play, Roste dropped back to pass but could not find a receiver and pulled the ball down avoiding the heavy rush and spun out of a pair of tackles, ultimately getting past the sticks for a 13-yard gain and a first down. The first down proved to be huge, allowing Bethel to run three more running plays and causing UST to use their second timeout of the half. Bethel punted the ball away with just 3:27 remaining and a 14-point lead.
The Tommies put together their best drive of the day and this time were able to convert and convert quickly. UST needed just three pass plays of 28, 13 and 24 yards to get down to the BU four-yard line. Bethel stuffed running back Josh Parks on the next play but Perra was able to find tight end Zach Bennet in the endzone on the very next play for the score. The drive took just 1:23 off the clock. UST then faked the extra point and converted the pass for the two-point conversion to pull within 21-15.
The game would in large part come down to the ensuing onside kick with just 2:20 remaining and UST with only one timeout left. The Tommies kicker sent a perfect high-bounding onside kick towards the Royals and senior tight end Mathias Durie skied to snatch the kick high out of the air and came down securely with the ball. During a five-yard Gibas run on second down, UST was called for a facemask penalty allowing Bethel to get their needed first down to be able to fully run out the clock. St. Thomas was called for an unsportsmanlike penalty in trying to swipe the snap further cementing Bethel's ability to run out the remaining clock by taking a knee.
The Royals ability to control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball showed up in the statistics. Bethel limited St. Thomas to just 49 yards rushing on 27 attempts (1.8 yard per carry) as the Tommies came in averaging 290 yards per game, fourth in all of NCAA DIII. Conversely the Royals ran the ball for 217 yards against the Tommie defense that had allowed just 11-yards rushing per game coming in. UST was able to throw for 287 yards while Bethel threw for 177 as the slippery field conditions made rushing the passer difficult. Bethel recorded one sack while St. Thomas had two. Bethel owned a 394-287 advantage in total offense and a 31:48 to 28:12 time of possession advantage. St. Thomas was penalized eight times for 60-yards while the Royals just three for 20 yards.
St. Thomas running back Josh Parks entered the game with a 9.3 yards per carry average, the third best in all college football divisions. Against Bethel he totaled 33 yards on 17 carries with his longest run being just six yards, an average of 1.9 per carry. For Bethel running back Sam Gibas had 18 carries for 69 tough yards. Fellow running back Brady Bomsta had two carries for 31 yards. Roste led the way on the ground for the Royals, thanks in large part to the 93-yard TD run. He totaled 116 yards on 14 carries. Through the air Roste was 17-33 for 177 yards. Drew Larsen led the way receiving with five catches for 50 yards as the Royals spread the ball around, finding seven different targets. John Carlson had two catches for 43 yards including a great 31-yard reception along the sidelines for a big third down conversion in the second half for Bethel. Joel Koenecke made three catches, including a pair of impressive grabs in traffic, totaling 27 yards.
Blake Hottle averaged 35.8 yards punting on four kicks, including one inside the 20-yard line. Roste also punted twice for a 46-yard average, pinning UST at their own 1-yard line as they were unable to put a returner back on Roste's quick kicks. Matthew Stone converted all three Bethel PAT's to improve to 12-12 over the last two weeks.
On defense senior linebacker Drew Ragsdale totaled a team high 11 tackles while a trio of Royals had nine tackles in Dawson Brown, Kyle Peach and Cale Ferrin. Kyle Kilgore put together a big game on the defensive line for Bethel with eight tackles, a tackle for loss and a half sack as well as a pass breakup and the blocked punt. In the secondary, senior Trey Anderson was outstanding all day long in coverage while also registering seven tackles to go along with an interception and three pass breakups.
Bethel will now turn their attention to the NCAA Division III Selection Show which will air on Sunday afternoon at 4:30 p.m. on NCAA.com. The NCAA press release on the selection show can be found here. With a strong strength of schedule and high region ranking the Royals appear to be a lock for one of the five at-large berths. Bethel will learn their first round opponent and location during the show.