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Royals Hold On To Beat Cougars 24-23 in NCAA Playoffs

Royals Hold On To Beat Cougars 24-23 in NCAA Playoffs

A weekend win sends the Royals to the second round of the NCAA Playoffs.

The Royals are moving on to the second round of the NCAA Division III Playoffs with a 24-23 win over No. 18 Concordia University Saturday. The hosting Cougars (10-1) scored with 0:18 left in the fourth quarter, but J.D. Mehlhorn (Jr., Lakeville, Minn.) broke up the ensuing two-point conversion to give Concordia University-Chicago its first loss of the season and an early exit from the 2012 postseason.

A sold out crowd at Concordia Stadium saw the Royals take the 24-10 lead with 6:31 left in the third quarter, but the Cougars never quit. Trailing 24-17 with less than seven minutes in the final period, Bethel quarterback Erik Peterson (So., Orono, Minn.) was stripped in an attempt to place the ball over the goal line, which kept the score within seven. CUC later drove down the field to score what appeared to be the equalizer, but a failed pass attempt by Cougar quarterback Jake Koehler ended the game with the final 24-23.

The Royals' defense proved to be the difference early on. Inside linebacker Seth Mathis (Jr., Anoka, Minn.) recorded his fifth interception of the season on the Cougars first drive, which was inside the Bethel 20-yard-line. A quick 3-and-out gave the ball back to Concordia, but Jordan Anderson (Sr., Lino Lakes, Minn.) followed suit with his first interception of the season on the Bethel 18.

BU turned the turnover into points at the 4:11 mark in the first quarter, when freshmen kicker Nathaniel Van Loon (Fr., Faribault, Minn.) kicked a career-best 40-yard field goal to give the Royals the 3-0 advantage.

Bethel put together another six-minute drive on their next possession, however, this time the Royals put six on the board. Erik Peterson connected with Mitch Hallstrom (Jr., Eden Prairie, Minn.) on a 4th-and-7 touchdown pass from the CUC 22-yard-line, which put BU up 10-0.

Hallstrom wasn't done scoring, as he threw a touchdown to fellow wide out Jay Hilbrands (Sr., Clara City, Minn.) on the next Bethel possession. Peterson threw a bubble screen to Hallstrom, who then stepped back and fired a pass that got tipped right into the hands of Hilbrands, who then clipped the pylon.

Trailing 17-3, Concordia cut into the BU lead with an 8-play, 68-yard drive to go into the half down 17-10.

The Royals weren't done scoring, though, as a solid rushing performance by Marshall Klitzke (Fr., Annandale, Minn.) helped Bethel find the end zone with 6:23 left in the third quarter. Erik Peterson's one-yard carry gave BU just enough, as it and the Van Loon PAT was the difference maker in the 24-23 final.

Bethel finished the day with 21 first downs, totaling 350 yards. Klitzke rushed for 134 yards on 18 carries, averaging 7.4 yards per carry.

Meanwhile, Peterson completed 16-of-23 passes for 161 yards and a touchdown. Perhaps the most impressive stat was no turnovers throughout the entire 60 minutes.

Bethel's quarterback connected with Mitch Hallstrom eight times for 100 yards. Hallstrom had an exceptional one-handed catch late in the fourth quarter on a fourth down play that extended the Royals drive. Brandon Marquardt (So., Champlin, Minn.), Jay Hilbrands, and Kyle Ulstad (Sr., Fargo, S.D.) each caught two passes as well.

Defensively, Seth Mathis had another outstanding performance. Mathis finished with 15 tackles—eight solo—and one interception returned for 31 yards. Brett Skoog (Sr., Long Lake, Minn.) ended with 10 tackles, including one for loss. Erik Smith (Sr., Henning, Minn.) wrapped up six carries, including a sack for a six-yard-loss. In the secondary, J.D. Mehlhorn also played a special role, not only breaking up the potential game-winning two-point conversion, but also breaking up two other potential touchdowns.

The Royals kicker, Nathaniel Van Loon, was also astonishing. Van Loon not only nailed a 40-yarder, but he put every kickoff inside the Cougar five-yard-line—opposed to Concordia, who purposefully never got a kickoff past the 30-yard-line.

According to Concordia Coach Lonnie Pries, “We were not willing to put the ball in the hand's of Bethel's return men, so we decided made someone else hurt us.” This was effective on the first kick, as Bethel dropped the opening kickoff and the Cougars recovered—but the Royals had great field position the rest of the way.

With Saturday's win, Bethel travels to Oshkosh, Wis. to take on the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, who handled the College of St. Scholastica 55-10 in Oshkosh Saturday. The Titans finished its regular season 10-0 and received the automatic qualifier from the WIAC.