Sports | Jared Nelson
Rivals Bethel and St. Thomas met for a Top 10 showdown on Saturday. With the victory, the Royals defended their undefeated record (6-0, 4-0 MIAC) and their No. 5 national ranking. | Photo for The Clarion by Kristine Schmidt
Bethel’s undefeated football team defended their home turf and preserved their No. 5-national ranking on Saturday, defeating the ninth ranked Tommies of the University of St. Thomas by a final score of 28-21.
The first half was all about the Royals, as quarterback Erik Peterson found senior wide receiver Mitch Hallstrom for a 17-yard completion on 3rd-and-10 from the Tommie 18-yard line. Sophomore tailback Marshall Klitzke finished the drive with a 1-yard run on the next play.
Following a Tommie three-and-out, the Royals took 16 plays to drive 70 yards, capped off with a 15-yard aerial strike from Peterson to senior receiver Jay Hilbrands just before halftime. Bethel led 14-0 as both teams went to regroup in the locker rooms.
St. Thomas returned from the intermission with new life, as a reverse on the opening kick of the second half sprung Jack Gillialand 90 yards to the endzone. The ensuing kickoff was fumbled by Bethel and the Tommies took over deep in Royal territory, leading to the equalizing score just minutes into the second half.
A six-yard run from Tommie running back Jack Kaiser gave UST the 21-14 lead with 5:01 left in the third quarter. Despite 21 unanswered points, the Royals were not discouraged.
Halfway through the final quarter, Peterson found senior Brandon Marquardt out of the backfield who scampered for the 27-yard score. Following Marquardt’s score, head coach Steve Johnson took a timeout and sent his offense back on the field, attempting to go for two and take the 22-21 lead. Peterson sweep over the right side of the line was stopped short and many Bethel fans were left scratching their heads at the play call.
“I knew we were gonna win when the two-point conversion failed,” Johnson joked.
Bethel’s stingy defense, led by seniors Seth Mathis and J.D. Mehlhorn with 16 and 13 tackles respectively, forced the Tommie punt with 2:53 left in the game. Peterson and the Royals were down by one with the length of the field to go.
Peterson was as proficient as ever in Bethel’s final drive, finding senior Jared Schultz for a 27-yard gain down the sideline and Hallstrom twice for eight yards each. Peterson and Hilbrands forced a Tommie pass interference penalty on the two-yard line, and Klitzke found the endzone for the second time in the game and put Bethel up 28-21.
With just 40 seconds remaining and down by seven, St. Thomas was unable to get into the endzone and the Bethel fans that braved the cold and the rain were able to celebrate the victory on the field with their team.
Peterson finished the game 20 of 29 through the air for 262 yards and two touchdowns. Hallstrom caught nine balls for 96 yards and Hilbrands had five receptions for 59 yards and a touchdown. The Bethel defense forced St. Thomas into two turnovers on the afternoon as well.
The Royals continue MIAC play next weekend as Gustavus comes to town for a 1:00 p.m. kickoff. The Gusties are 4-2 on the season, 2-2 in the MIAC.