Bethel wins MIAC opener in convincing fashion and improves to 3-0 overall
Freshman running back Marshall Klitzke was a big-play catalyst against the Knights, scoring three touchdowns and averaging 11.2 yards per carry. | Matt Kelley
Sports | Matt Kelley
ARDEN HILLS, Minn. -- Bethel scored six rushing touchdowns as they opened their conference football season with a bang Saturday, defeating the Carleton Knights 52-14 at Royal Stadium and improving to 3-0.
Freshman running back Marshall Klitzke provided big plays for the Royals’ offense and scored three rushing touchdowns. The Annandale, Minn. native finished the game with 15 carries for 168 yards, both career highs.
“He’s just a really good running back,” said head coach Steve Johnson. “There are backs that can run, but then there are backs that have a feel for the game and understand the game. He’s got it from the beginning.”
Klitzke, who began the year as a backup, started the game because sophomore starter Brandon Marquardt hurt his ankle Friday in a walkthrough. With only seven previous collegiate carries under his belt, the freshman responded with touchdown runs of two, 51 and 63 yards.
“My blockers were really great today,” Klitzke said. “They opened up some great lanes and I just had to run naturally – as fast as I could.”
While the Royals were able to gash Carleton with big plays, the Bethel offense struggled at times, and the defense allowed two long scores. The final score may not reflect it, but Carleton had chances to get back in the game before it became a rout in the third quarter.
Bethel seized the early momentum in convincing fashion by scoring on just their third offensive play, a 64-yard touchdown pass from sophomore Erik Peterson to senior tight end Kyle Ulstad. Three plays later safety David Morgan recovered a Carleton fumble in Knights territory. The turnover led to another score, a 1-yard run by senior Derek Waldbillig – his first of three in the game.
Less than seven minutes into the game, Bethel led 14-0.
The Royals caught a break late in the first quarter when Carleton’s recovery of a muffed punt was negated by an inadvertent whistle from one of the officials, forcing the down to be re-played.
The next few possessions were a stalemate until Waldbillig scored on a 5-yard run to put Bethel up 20-0. Nathaniel Van Loon’s PAT was blocked, however, and the Knights seemed to draw some life from the small victory.
Carleton responded to the early adversity and the Knights – even if only for a quarter – matched Bethel punch-for-punch. Carleton scored on the ensuing possession, cutting the lead to 20-7, when Mike Hartwell found Chase Gottschalk for a 66-yard touchdown pass, reminiscent of Ulstad’s score that opened the game.
It felt as if the momentum had shifted, with the Royals’ offense struggling for much of the second quarter and their defense allowing an uncharacteristic long play.
“We really had about six plays in a row go bad,” Johnson said. “I felt us starting to watch a little bit, but I think we did a good job of fighting through that.”
It was up to a 5-foot-8, 181-pound freshman to recover the momentum. With 3:01 left in the second quarter, Klitzke scored a 51-yard touchdown to give Bethel a 27-7 lead at halftime.
The third quarter was squarely dominated by the Royals. Bethel outscored Carleton 25-0 in the third, creating an insurmountable lead. Waldbillig and Klitzke scored on runs of 46 and 63 yards in the frame, and Peterson found senior receiver Jay Hilbrands for a 67-yard bomb.
The 6-foot-6 Hilbrands now has 230 yards and three touchdowns on just nine catches this season, giving him a 25.6 yards-per-catch average, tops in the MIAC.
“I think we can be very explosive at times,” said offensive coordinator Greg Peterson. “We get ourselves into situations where we can take some shots and get some stuff down the field.”
Quarterback Erik Peterson had another incredibly efficient afternoon, completing 15 of his 22 pass attempts for 258 yards and two scores. The first-year starter is completing 74 percent of his passes this year, the best mark in the MIAC.
“He’s talented, which is obvious, but he has a poise and calmness with the way he plays,” Greg Peterson said of his quarterback. “It’s been fun to see.”
One encouraging sign for the Royals was the return of receiver Hans Duininck, who missed the team’s first two games with a meniscus injury.
“Hans is an unsung hero and a favorite on our team because he does all the dirty work,” Johnson said. “He’s the glue of our receiving corps. On some of our big plays today he made some incredible blocks, and a lot of people don’t see all the stuff that he does.”
Other than allowing two long touchdowns, the Royals’ defense had a typically dominant afternoon. The unit forced four turnovers and sacked the Knights’ quarterbacks seven times. Senior linebacker Seth Mathis led the way with 12 total tackles, a forced fumble and a pass broken up.
Bethel’s next game will be on Sept. 29 at Augsburg at 1 p.m.