Last-second heroics propel Bethel to 15-14 win over Concordia

October 6, 2012 | 7:50 p.m.

Peterson, Hilbrands and Hallstrom provide clutch win in homecoming game

Mitch Hallstrom catches the game-winning two-point conversion against Concordia-Moorhead on Oct. 6.

Junior receiver Mitch Hallstrom makes the catch on the game-winning two-point conversion, giving Bethel a 15-14 win over Concordia. | Drea Chalmers

Sports | Matt Kelley

Breathe. I dare you.

It took all 60 minutes – plus two more plays – for No. 10 Bethel to win their homecoming football game Saturday, defeating Concordia College 15-14 in stunning and rare fashion.

Trailing 14-7 with five seconds remaining, Royals quarterback Erik Peterson dropped back to pass, was sacked and fumbled the ball. The clock read “0:00.” Game over, right? Only, several Cobbers rushed the field before the play was over, drawing an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and resuscitating the hopes of Bethel fans. On the ensuing untimed down, senior receiver Jay Hilbrands hauled in a 9-yard Peterson pass for the touchdown.

Bethel opted to decide the game on a two-point conversion rather than force overtime with an extra point. The gamble paid off with a successful conversion on a pass from Peterson to receiver Mitch Hallstrom.

Pandemonium.

“We thought it was going to be a war,” said Bethel head coach Steve Johnson. “We’re two similar teams, and our defense played unbelievable.”

The win was emblematic of the team’s mindset all year. Since training camp coaches have preached – and players have echoed – a decree of playing start-to-finish: all 60 minutes. The Royals have needed every tick of the clock to win the past two weeks over previously unbeaten Augsburg and Concordia.

“It’s crazy. Words can’t even describe it – you couldn’t have scripted it better,” Hilbrands said. “They preached every day that you have to play 60, and we did that today.”

Hilbrands’ clutch touchdown came on the same play call that had resulted in a sack the previous down – a play designed to go away from Hilbrands to Peterson’s right side. After learning that they had new life because of the penalty, the coaching staff dialed up the same call but reversed Peterson’s reads.

He was instructed to look for the 6-foot-6 Hilbrands on the left side if he was guarded one-on-one. He was – by 5-foot-9 senior corner Kenyon O’Brien. Hilbrands elevated, cleanly wrapped his hands around the ball and tapped his right foot inbounds. Touchdown.

“It’s pretty incredible,” Peterson said of his favorite red zone target. “I mean, you throw it up to him and he’s going to catch it. He made an unbelievable play.”

The two-point play was a short-yardage play that has been in the playbook for years – going back to when the kicking game was bad enough to necessitate consistent two-point attempts. Hallstrom motioned from the left side across the formation then continued his run toward the right front pylon. He caught the ball just in front of the goal line and powered in for the game-winning conversion.

“I was freaking out,” Hallstrom said. “I did not think we’d (go for two), but they called this play that we’d been working on for a little bit and I said, ‘Oh my gosh – that’s going to me.’  I caught it, and it was a great fake.”

The last-second heroics capped an 11-play, 71-yard drive that started as anything but triumphant. After a false start penalty, Peterson nearly threw an interception that would have sealed the game for Concordia. The drive was sparked by a Jared Schultz catch to midfield.

Hallstrom then made the catch of the year, a diving one-handed grab that put the Royals at the Concordia 29-yard line. Three plays later, Bethel again found themselves down to their last play on a fourth-and-12. Peterson completed to senior Hans Duininck for 14 yards, his only catch of the day.

Peterson completed 16 of his 30 pass attempts on the day, yielding 177 yards, one interception and the last-second touchdown. Hilbrands led the way receiving for the Royals with a career-high eight catches for 84 yards.

The most encouraging stats for BU fans, though, are running back Jesse Phenow’s 22 carries and 85 yards. Phenow had missed most of the season with a meniscus injury, playing only a handful of snaps in the season opener and none since.

“He’s tough and he cares like crazy,” Johnson said of the junior. “He’s good and he doesn’t let anybody have a bad time.”

The Royals (5-0, 3-0 MIAC) will travel to St. Paul next week to face Saint Thomas (5-0, 3-0 MIAC) in a matchup of national top-10 schools, played at 1 p.m. The Tommies defeated Gustavus 28-14 on Saturday despite six turnovers.

“The Tommies are a heck of a team and so is Concordia, so it’s another battle and we have a lot of momentum going in,” Hilbrands said. “We have another great week of practice to prepare for it, so this is a good way to go into that game.”

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