A week after recording two sacks and a forced fumble in the first round of the NCAA Division-III playoffs, DE Kyle Kilgore made his presence known against the Cardinals, recording three sacks and a forced fumble to help stymy the North Central College offense for much of this game as the Bethel Royals advanced to the third round thanks to a 27-24 victory. Freshman QB Jaran Roste threw for three touchdowns, including two big play scores, and Sam Gibas rushed for 122 to help lead the offense.
This was a defensive battle through the first half. Both teams would cross midfield on their opening possessions, but each would turn the ball over on downs to end the drives. The Cardinals would be forced to punt on their next possession, but would get the ball right back when Braden Lindmark picked off a Jaran Roste pass, returning it to the Bethel 37.
North Central College would stay on the ground for the most part, moving eight plays to the one yard line where they were faced with a third and goal. Dominick Muoghalu had already converted two third and short situations and would deliver once again, going off tackle and into the end zone to make it 7-0.
The Royals had been held scoreless through their first three drives, but they would finally get on the scoreboard on their fourth possession. Faced with a third and 5 at their own 18, Roste sold the play action pass perfectly. That allowed Jon Pytlak to get behind the Cardinals safety. Roste found his open receiver, who raced the distance for the 72 yard touchdown to tie the score at seven.
NCC would mount an impressive drive just before the half ended, moving 75 yards in 11 plays to put them at the Bethel five. However, with it fourth and 4 and just seven seconds left, the Cardinals took the 22 yard field goal to take a 10-7 lead heading into the half.
Bethel had struggled to move the ball in the first half, but the third quarter proved to be a different story. The Royals took the kickoff, marching 77 yards in 14 plays before they would score to take the lead. Bethel converted a third on 1 at their own 32 to keep the drive alive, and Roste followed with a 22 yard strike to Drew Larsen across the middle. The Royals were once again faced with a third down, this time at the 36, but Gibas gave them a fresh set of downs with a three yard carry. On fourth and 2 at the 25, the Royals opted to go for it, and pulled out a huge call, as Roste went with the naked bootleg, rushing for 11 yards and a first down. Three plays later, the Bethel quarterback found John Carlson for a 10 yard touchdown to make it 14-10. That drive took 8:22 off the clock.
Another long drive would put the Royals up by 10. A 46 yard punt backed Bethel to their own six. Gibas immediately got them out of trouble, carrying the ball on their first two plays of the drive for 20 yards. After Roste found Larsen for 12 yards and another first down, the Royals stayed to the ground on their next 10 plays, moving to the NCC one. From there, Roste bull rushed up the middle for a touchdown to make it 20-10. The extra point was blocked. That drive took 7:29 off the clock.
The Cardinals would respond by moving to the Bethel 27, but the drive would stall there. They would opt to go for the 44 yard field goal, but the attempt was just wide. However, the defense would force a three and out, giving the offense back the ball. This time they would not be denied. Broc Rutter completed two big passes for a combined total of 42 yards to put the ball at the Bethel three. Three plays later, Muoghalu scored from one yard out to make it 20-17.
The Royals would respond on their next possession. The offense would move to the North Central 43 in just two plays. After Gibas gained a yard on his first carry, he would burst outside for 16 yards, drawing a late hit out of bounds penalty. On the next play, Roste rolled to his right, finding Larsen, who made the catch, then racing the remaining distance for the 43 yard touchdown to put Bethel back on top by 10.
Rutter and the Cardinals offense would do a little responding of their own on their next possession. Faced with a third and 15 on the third play of the drive, the NCC QB found Cameron Moore streaking down the seam, hitting him in stride for a 36 yard completion to the Bethel 25. Two plays later, it looked like the Royals would shut the door when Kilgore sacked Rutter, knocking the ball loose. A Bethel defender jumped on the ball, but it squirted out from underneath him and was recovered by the Cardinals. On the next play, Rutter found Moore at the goal line for the touchdown to make it 27-24.
North Central went for the onside kick, but it was recovered by Mathias Durie. However, the defense would force a punt that was downed at the nine. With 91 yards to go and just 2:23 left on the clock, Rutter tried to at least get within field goal range. His first pass was incomplete and, on the second play, Mike Delich chased the Cardinals quarterback, pulling him down just outside of the end zone to avoid the safety. A 10 yard completion set up fourth and 8, but the final pass attempt fell incomplete as the Royals would win, 27-24.
Jaran Roste was 15-20 for 219 yards passing and 3 touchdowns. He also gained 69 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Sam Gibas had 22 carries for 122 yards and Drew Larsen had 8 catches for 95 yards and a score.
The Royals offense had a big day, but the defense continued their dominance. Kyle Kilgore seemed to be in on every play, leading the team with 10 tackles and 3 sacks. That gives him 13.0 sacks this season, and is the second time this year he has had at least three sacks in a single game. He also forced his second fumble of the year.
Dawson Brown had nine tackles on the day, second most on the team. Cameron Monson, Mike Delich, and Drew Ragsdale each had a sack. Bethel has 16 sacks in the first two playoff games.
The Royals will travel to Wisconsin-Whitewater to take on the Warhawks next Saturday. The No. 4 team in the nation is 12-0. Kickoff should be at 12:00.
By Robert Pannier