Healthy secondary helps Bethel to playoff win

November 23, 2013 | 6:19 p.m.

Sports | Jared Nelson

Despite a barrage of injuries throughout the season, Bethel’s pass defense is much improved in 2013 and has been wreaking havoc for opposing offenses with big plays and turnovers. Senior cornerback Josh Treimer is the only starter that hasn’t missed time due to injury, as Landen Strilzuk struggled with a knee injury in the early weeks, J.D. Mehlhorn has battled a sore foot and hamstring, and David Morgan was hampered by a separated shoulder.

The misfortunes were not reserved for the starters, however, as backup cornerback Mark Torppey dealt with shoulder issues of his own in addition to a broken wrist and backup safety Dan Leidall missed two games because of a concussion.

Defensive coordinator Mike Fregeau has been forced to experiment with a variety of combinations and pairings in the secondary throughout the season, but the result has always been the same: inefficiency and turnovers by opposing quarterbacks.

That was the case again this afternoon, as the secondary held St. Scholastica to 131 yards through the air, including just 22 yards in the second half. The Royals were able to intercept Saints quarterback Tyler Harper twice throughout the afternoon.

Matt Mehlhorn’s interception set up a Bethel score in the second quarter as he returned the pick all the way to the Saints’ 1-yard line. The interception was Mehlhorn’s second on the year, as he made his mark in the Royal record books with his 100-yard pick-six in Bethel’s game against Gustavus. Mehlhorn was a first-team All-MIAC performer this season, after beginning the year with the wide receivers but switching to the secondary when injuries became a concern for the defense.  

Bethel’s early lead forced St. Scholastica into passing situations, allowing their defense to sit back and take advantage of poor decisions by Harper.

“Once you get ahead, you can play soft coverages that don’t allow throws down the field,” St. Scholastica head coach Greg Carlson said. “Our quarterback predetermined some reads and that led to the interceptions."

The run defense was stout as well, holding standout running back Jake Jensen to just 37 yards rushing, with only seven of those coming in the second half. Luke Buttenhoff anchored the front line for the Royals with nine tackles, 1.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss. Mathis added nine tackles of his own to go along with the interception.

The secondary appears to be as healthy as ever as they move forward in NCAA tournament play, advancing to play the Wartburg College Knights at a location that is to be determined. The Royals defeated the Knights in their first game of the season by a final score of 30-17.

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