Bethel allows 151 yards in a dominant performance
Safety J.D. Mehlhorn streaks toward the endzone after a first-quarter interception against Buena Vista on September 15. Mehlhorn was part of a dominant defensive unit that held the Beavers to 151 yards of offense. | Drea Chalmers
Sports | Matt Kelley
In an impressive display of intimidation and execution, No. 12 Bethel defeated non-conference foe Buena Vista 56-7 in their 2012 home opener on Saturday, improving to 2-0 as they enter the MIAC schedule.
As in last week’s 21-0 road win over Wartburg, the Royals’ defense set the tone against the Beavers on Saturday, allowing just 151 yards while creating turnovers and igniting the large and raucous home crowd.
Bethel wasn’t able to preserve the shutout, but Buena Vista’s only score – and more than half their yards – came with less than three minutes remaining, long after Royals head coach Steve Johnson had pulled his starters. Before the late scoring drive, Bethel had conceded a measly 66 yards through the game’s first 57 minutes.
“I love to watch our defense – I just think they’re phenomenal,” Johnson said. “They’re disciplined and fast, and they can really hit. They’re so physical and they’re so fast that it’s really frustrating for opposing offenses.”
While the defense was suffocating, Bethel’s offense executed almost flawlessly. The starters played nearly 40 minutes and amassed a 49-0 lead, due largely to the play of quarterback Erik Peterson. In just his second game as a starter, the sophomore accounted for four scores – two passing and two rushing – while completing 14 of his 16 pass attempts. Peterson is now 34-for-44 on passes this season, totaling 416 yards and a pass efficiency of 167.15.
“[Quarterbacks coach Scott] Kirchoff invested a whole bunch into him last year, knowing that he’s the next guy,” Johnson said. “It’s just great to have his poise and accuracy, and he’s a great athlete.”
The Royals opened the game with a methodical 15-play, eight-minute drive, capped by a 2-yard touchdown run by senior Derek Waldbillig.
After Bethel forced a three-and-out on Buena Vista’s first possession, the Royals’ offense turned the ball over on a Peterson fumble, sacrificing their early momentum. The Beavers followed by gaining a first down for the first time in the game, and it appeared as though Buena Vista had stabilized.
Then Royals safety J.D. Mehlhorn stole the momentum – and the ball.
Mehlhorn, a junior whom Johnson described as “the quarterback of the defense,” stepped in front of a Bobby Brown pass and returned the interception 40 yards for a touchdown, giving the Royals a 14-0 lead with 3:28 remaining in the first quarter.
“That was a play coach Miller had run all week in scouts, so it was something I’d seen before. I saw him looking over there and ended up in the right spot,” Mehlhorn said. “I was a little nervous that someone would track me down from behind, so I got pretty happy once I crossed the goal line.”
From that point the rout was on, with the defense allowing nothing and the offense scoring touchdowns on five of their next six possessions.
Both of Peterson’s touchdown passes went to senior receiver Jay Hilbrands, who totaled 99 receiving yards on three catches. Hilbrands, who stands at 6-foot-6, has emerged as a lethal deep threat this year, averaging 23.8 yards per catch so far this season.
“He’s ridiculous,” Johnson said of Hilbrands. “He’s not only like a foot and a half taller than everybody, but his arms are like a foot and a half longer and he can jump. He’s just a great athlete. You know he’s super big and long, but he’s really fast, and he’s a great competitor.”
Another promising sign for the Royals was the emergence of freshman running back Marshall Klitzke. After last year’s leading rusher, Jesse Phenow, injured his left ACL last week, the offense was searching for a third back to carry the load with Waldbillig and sophomore Brandon Marquardt. With his 41 yards and 5.9 yards-per-carry average on Saturday, it looks like Klitzke could be more prominent in the offense in the coming weeks.
“There’s really nothing good about Jesse’s injury, because he’s really a leader on our offense,” Johnson said. “But with him out, it’s given Marshall touches and a feel for the game – I think he’s going to be really good.”
The Royals’ next game will be their MIAC opener, a 1 p.m. home game against Carleton (2-0, 1-0 MIAC) on Saturday, September, 22.