Bethel builds a 14-0 lead but falls at UW-Oshkosh
Senior running back Derek Waldbillig is comforted by sophomore offensive lineman Joshua Perkins after Bethel's 37-14 playoff loss at UW-Oshkosh on November 24. | Matt Kelley
Sports | Matt Kelley
In a game that started with great promise, No. 5 Wisconsin-Oshkosh ended up being too much for No. 21 Bethel to handle, scoring 37 unanswered points and ending the Royals’ season with a 37-14 loss.
Bethel began the game with a confident surge, fueled by an uncharacteristic gameplan. After both teams punted on their first possessions, the Royals drove 99 yards for a score, capped by a 55-yard touchdown pass from Erik Peterson to Mitch Hallstrom that gave Bethel an early 7-0 lead.
The Bethel offense, typically predicated on efficiently picking up first downs, opened the game with a more aggressive vertical passing game than it’s used all season, hoping to exploit UWO’s focus on stopping the run.
“We wanted to make sure we could take that cap off the top – we wanted to threaten that,” said head coach Steve Johnson. “We were playing the fifth-ranked team in the country. We didn’t feel like we could inch our way to victory.”
UWO head coach Pat Cerroni admitted that the downfield passing caught him and his staff off guard, and the Royals were able to capitalize for a 14-0 lead. The second scoring drive was sparked by a 31-yard Hans Duininck catch and was capped off by a 2-yard touchdown pass to Hallstrom on a 4th-and-1 play.
But for all the rewards of the aggressive strategy – a shocking 14-0 lead on the road – it proved to be a risky and unsustainable one. Erik Peterson threw for 197 yards in the first half, completing 15 of 17 attempts. But the other two passes were intercepted. The last one – thrown with just 1:35 left in the first half – allowed the Titans to cut the lead to 14-7 by halftime.
Then the second half started.
The Bethel defense held star Titan quarterback Nate Wara to 50 yards of total offense in the first half, but the senior couldn’t be held down for long. Wara orchestrated three consecutive touchdown drives to begin the third quarter. In all, the Titans gained 204 total yards in the third frame and built a 35-14 advantage early in the fourth.
Wara finished the game 18-of-27 for 232 yards and three scores, plus 35 rushing yards. Wara was intercepted twice – as many times as he was in the Titans’ first 11 games – but both came in the first half. The Oshkosh native went 12-of-14 in the second half.
Peterson, on the other hand, struggled after halftime, completing six of his 15 attempts and throwing a third interception. He totaled 272 passing yards and two touchdowns on the afternoon. Peterson finished the season 203-of-304, breaking the school record for completion percentage in a season at 66.8 percent.
The Bethel running game was nearly non-existent, gaining just 28 yards on the ground all day and losing one net yard in the entire second half. The Titans, on the other hand, ran the ball very well after intermission. Of Cole Myhra’s 177 rushing yards, 113 came after halftime.
The loss was difficult on the Bethel seniors, ending their football career in blue and gold. The Class of 2013 never had a losing season and went a combined 36-10, highlighted by a regional championship season in 2010.
“The game of football is amazing because it hurts – it’s really tough to play, and this hurts. But it’s also great because you need each other,” Johnson said. “We talk about, ‘Give your heart away, even though you know in the end that it’s going to be broken.’ And today’s the day for us.”