After three-year starter Erik Peterson graduated this last summer, some wondered what shape the Bethel Royals offense would be in. If Thursday night’s performance was any indication, the offense is looking fine under Andrew Dzurik, as he lead the club to a 35-20 season opening victory over the University of Wisconsin-Stout Thursday night.
The Royals were looking to get off to a fast start this season, especially after falling to Wartburg to begin last season. With the Knights coming to town next Saturday, Bethel needed a strong showing to build off of, and their senior quarterback gave them everything they could want and more.
The Blue Devils got on the board first with an impressive four-play, 80-yard drive that started with just under 10 minutes left in the first quarter. QB Hank Kujak gained seven yards on the ground on the drive’s first play, then hit Chris Pica-Anderson for 13-yards and a first down. On the next play Kujak found a wide open Brian Alvarez for 45-yards. A personal foul penalty advanced the ball to Bethel nine-yard line, where Stout had first and goal. On the next play Kujak found Pica-Anderson for the nine-yard score and just like that the Blue Devils had a 7-0 lead.
The Bethel Royals came roaring right back. Taking the ensuing kickoff and starting from their own 25, the visitors ran the ball on five straight plays, moving to the UW-Stout 40-yard line. Marshall Klitzke had three of those carries for 22 yards and Bridgeport Tusler had the other two for 13 yards. On the next play the Blue Devils pinched closer to the line looking to shut down the run and Dzurik made them pay. The Royals quarterback found Charles Johnson for the 40-yard strike and the game was tied.
The touchdown seemed to spark something in the Royals, as the defense forced a four-play drive before UW-Stout was forced to punt. That put the offense back onto the field starting at their own 23-yard-line. Dzurik took charge, showing his arm is plenty accurate, completing all four of his passes before the first quarter came to an end. After the break the ground game took over, as the Bethel offense rumbled off six straight carries. Josh Werness plunged in from one-yard out to make it a 14-7 game. The 14-play, 77-yard drive lasted 7:03 and showed that the Royals offensive line is plenty ready to sustain long drives.
The two teams headed into the locker room at half-time with the defenses being the story in the first half. That would be true of the third quarter as well, as Stout added two field goals to cut the Royals lead to one. The first one came after Dzurik was intercepted, and the Blue Devils began their next drive with great field position at their own 45. They then went 11-plays before Taylor Pahl hit a 25-yarder to make it 14-10. On their next possession Paul hit a 38-yard field goal and it was 14-13 entering the fourth quarter.
The Bethel offense had struggled since scoring their second touchdown of the game, but in the fourth quarter the senior got red-hot. The Royals scored 2:38 into the fourth quarter, when Dzurik hit receiver Bryce Marquardt in stride for a 41-yard touchdown pass, to cap-off an 8-play, 77-yard drive. That made it 21-13, and the Royals QB was just getting warmed up.
On the team’s next drive he found Drew Neuville for an 11-yard score to increase the lead to 15. The drive had two key plays as Druzik showed he can be quite nimble in the running game, gaining 14-yards on the ground to start the drive. Tusler then showed why he may be the most electric player in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, as he went 33-yards down to the Stout 14-yard-line before finally being brought down.
On their next drive, it looked like the Blue Devils defense had a big challenge as the Royals offense began the drive at the Stout 49 after the ball was turned over on downs. The defense looked like they were going to rise to the challenge, holding Bethel to just three yards on the first two plays but, on third and seven, Dzurik found Neuville again, this time for 46-yards and the score, to make it 35-13.
A late touchdown produced the final score of 35-20, as the Bethel Royals opened the season with their first win. Dzurik looked quite impressive in his first collegiate start, going 21-27 for 270 yards and 4 touchdowns. Klitzke carried the ball 21 times for an even 100 yards, and Tusler added 85 more on the ground on 13 carries. Neuville made 7 catches for 92 yards and two scores. Marquart had 66 yards receiving and a score, and Johnson had 51 yards and a touchdown.
Kujak looked impressive for UW-Stout. He was 30-52 for 341 yards and 2 touchdowns. Brian Alvarez had 7 receptions for 135 yards and Kevion McDonald also had 7 receptions.
Next week the Bethel University Royals host Wartburg College in a grudge match. The Royals lost 31-14 at Wartburg last year.
By Robert Pannier