Royals keep playoff hopes alive with two games to play
Sophomore Brandon Marquardt produced his best game of the season against Hamline, rushing for 142 yards and gaining 47 receiving yards. | Matt Kelley
Sports | Jenny Hudalla
The Bethel Royals (7-1, 5-1 MIAC) kept their chance of a playoff berth alive in Saturday’s 56-21 win over the Hamline Pipers (1-7, 0-7 MIAC) at Royal Stadium.
Under pressure to win their remaining three games, the Royals struck early with a 24-yard touchdown pass to running back Brandon Marquardt. The sophomore gained 189 yards from scrimmage on the day, including 142 on the ground.
“[Marquardt] had a great game today,” said head coach Steve Johnson. “Some of his shorter runs were my favorite. He’s got so much speed and explosiveness, but he kind of looks for it too much. He’s got to ‘lunch-pail’ it more, and he did that today.”
Although Bethel scored three more times in the first half and carried a lead into halftime, two defensive lapses resulted in two Hamline touchdowns. Early in the first quarter, freshman Austin Duncan ran for 60 yards to the Bethel 2-yard line, then completed the drive with a 1-yard rushing touchdown.
“We might have been a little over-aggressive,” Johnson said. “We were blitzing when we didn’t need to, but you have to credit [Hamline] – they made a play.”
Hamline scored again in the second quarter when quarterback Cam Knudsen threw a 62-yard touchdown pass to cut Bethel’s lead in half. However, the Royals defense stabilized in the third quarter, preventing Hamline from earning a single first down.
The Pipers gained 122 on their two big first-half plays. Other than those, the Royals’ defense allowed only 101 yards on the day.
Taking advantage of the defensive shutdown, Bethel’s offense exploded in the third quarter, scoring 28 points on three quick-strike touchdown drives and benefitting from a Landen Strilzuk 70-yard punt return for a score.
Quarterback Erik Peterson, last week’s MIAC Offensive Player of the Week, threw a career-high four touchdown passes while completing 16 of 23 attempts for 191 yards. The offense also amassed a season-high 262 rushing yards, fueled largely by Marquardt’s performance.
“[The offensive line] really played great today,” Marquardt said. “We had a game plan where we wanted to come out and run the ball, and it’s pretty easy to run when you’ve got holes like that.”
The Royals hope to capitalize on their offensive high when they face St. Olaf (6-2, 4-2 MIAC) next weekend at Manitou Field. Bethel remains tied with Concordia College for second place in the MIAC and will likely have to win its last two games – at St. Olaf on Nov. 3 and against St. John’s at home on Nov. 10 – to earn a playoff berth. But for Johnson and the Royals, the win-or-go-home reality of the playoffs is already here.
“We’ve got our big stretch coming,” Johnson said. “In a way, we’re already in a playoff push. If we lose either [game], we’re out. It’s like the playoffs for us now.”