Information, analysis and predictions for the Royals' first-round playoff game Saturday
Senior center Josh Wolfe (78) will be lined up against the Cougars' best defensive lineman on Saturday. Winning that matchup will be key to the Royals' running game. | Drea Chalmers
Sports | Matt Kelley
Bethel (8-2, 6-2 MIAC) will play its first-round NCAA playoff game at Concordia-Chicago (10-0, 7-0 NATHC) Saturday after being selected as a Pool C team. The game will take place at 12 p.m. (central) on the synthetic turf of Concordia Stadium in River Forest, Ill.
The Cougars are a difficult team to assess, as they finished undefeated but in a very weak conference (ranked 21st out of 26th – the MIAC, by comparison, is 3rd). From 1999 to 2008, Concordia was a combined 13-87, so their turnaround under head coach Lonnie Pries has been incredible. But this is the big time. Perhaps Pat Coleman of d3football.com said it best:
“While it's great how this program has made the next step of winning the conference title but I don't think that playing Lake Forest/Chicago/Hope prepares a team to play Bethel. This is not the playoff debut the Cougars are best suited for. They'll be giving up a lot of size to Bethel and while that's not the be-all and end-all, it isn't going to help.”
Concordia’s defense was lacking at times, especially given the level of competition. CC surrendered 23.9 points and 431.6 yards per game. Other than nose guard Marcus Frazier (6-foot, 280), the Cougars are small up front and have allowed over 200 rushing yards per contest. For fans of gridiron trench warfare, watching Bethel’s standout center Josh Wolfe battle Frazier could be one of the most entertaining parts of the game.
Concordia’s offense, however, averaged 40.4 points per game and is versatile and dangerous, led by quarterback Jake Koehler. The Belvidere, Ill. Native is averaging just less than 300 yards of total offense per game. His passing numbers are impressive (59% completion, 230 yards per game, 25/10 TD/INT), but this muscular dual threat grew up idolizing Tim Tebow. Given his running ability and his likely mismatched offensive line, Koehler could be running quite a bit on Saturday afternoon – running for his life.
But Koehler is a tough kid who won’t break, and he’s used to playing behind Swiss-cheese offensive lines. Trust me – I went to the same high school that he did. Bethel’s defense is far more imposing than any in the NATHC, but Koehler will fight – and likely have Royals fans worried at times.
Before reading my predictions for the game, check out the thoughts of head coach Steve Johnson on the game.
Prediction: Bethel 34, Concordia-Chicago 17
I wouldn’t be surprised if the Royals get off to a quick start in this one. Concordia hasn’t played a team with a winning record since Oct. 13, so it could be shocking for the Cougars to face a team that can match its talent and exceed its physicality. Add some possible playoff jitters (first ever postseason appearance for the Cougars), and Bethel may be able to jump out to a two-score lead in this one.
But the Royals have had trouble putting good teams away and have been susceptible to big plays, so CC will climb back into it, possibly with a long pass play from Koehler to senior wideout Jamal Thomas, who is averaging 17.5 yards per catch. I’d look for a halftime score of about 14-10.
Ultimately, I think the game will swing on a huge third-quarter defensive play, and I’d expect it to come from the left side of Bethel’s defensive front. The right side of Concordia’s offensive line is small and young, starting 255-pound freshman guard Jorge Ocasio-Comparini and 260-pound junior tackle Scott Illich. Kyle Asmus plays left defensive end for the Royals and has been one of the unsung heroes for that unit. My money is on Asmus working his way free for a sack and forcing a fumble, recovered by Erik Smith for a score.
In the end, Bethel’s physicality and relentlessness on defense will be too much for Concordia to overcome an early deficit. The away team should be able to methodically gain first downs to control the ball, and the Royals will be shipping off to Oshkosh for Round Two.
Based on the way I see the game playing out, these are the kinds of stats Bethel’s key performers might put up against the Cougars:
QB Erik Peterson: 18-26, 198 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT
RB Jesse Phenow: 17 carries, 77 yards, 1 TD
Brandon Marquardt: 9 carries, 61 yards, long of 40
Derek Waldbillig: 5 carries, 17 yards, 1 TD
WR Mitch Hallstrom: 7 catches, 73 yards, 1 TD
Jay Hilbrands: 4 catches, 59 yards, 1 TD, long of 33
DEF Seth Mathis: 8 tackles, 2 PBU
Kyle Asmus: 4 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 sack, 1 FF
Erik Smith: 5 tackles, 1 FR, 1 TD
Josh Treimer: 2 tackles, 1 FF, 1 INT