When a team has Three Kings running their backfield, it is easy to see how those running backs would be the keys to victory on most Saturdays. This week’s game against Hamline was no exception as the Royals running attack put up 331 yards on the ground on their way to a 38-14 victory, and the biggest king of all didn’t even have much of an impact on the game.
Each team would get their offenses going as both would score on their opening drives. The Royals took the opening kickoff and moved 78-yards on nine-plays before Bryce Marquardt took the ball and scored from eight-yards out to give the Royals the lead. Seven of the nine plays were on the ground, with the big blow coming on a 32-yard pass from QB Erik Peterson to Three Kings back Bridgeport Tusler.
The Pipers came right back to score on their first drive. They began on their 15, and moved the ball in nine plays, scoring on a 23-yard pass from Tim Bona to Phillip Sherman. Running back Austin Duncan was the big catalyst on the drive, carrying the ball five times for 44 yards and also catching a Bona pass for 14 more. It looked like the Royals were going to have no answer for Hamline’s bruising back early on, but the defense made adjustments to come up with the right answers to the question of “how does a team slow down Austin Duncan?”
With the score tied at seven, Bethel would move 66-yards on their second possession of the game, and would retake the lead on a four-yard Tusler touchdown run. While Peterson had three big pass completions on the scoring drive, it was the ground game that continued to do the most damage. The team was not only using their Three Kings of Tusler, Marquardt and Marshall Klitzke to move the ball, they were also using Brandon’s younger brother Bryce and Peterson was getting into the act as well. The group combined for seven carries and 42-yards before Tusler scored.
On the Royals next possession they were forced to punt, but a fumble by the return man was recovered by Josh Werness at the Hamline 40-yard line, and with new life Bethel was not going to be denied. The Royals ran on five of the seven plays in the drive, and Tusler scored from five yards out the make the score 21-7.
The Bethel defense forced another three-n-out in Hamline’s next possession, and the 44-yard punt went out of bounds at the Bethel 23-yard line. From there Peterson showed why he was the conference’s MVP last season, throwing a perfect strike to a streaking Bryce Marquardt for a 77-yard touchdown pass and a 28-7 lead.
The game remained a 21-point lead heading into half, and while the Royals offense was starting to get revved up, it was the defense that was really flexing their muscles. The Pipers last three possessions were all three-n-outs and they had gained just 22 combined yards on the three drives. Excellent tackling was keeping Hamline from gaining any additional yards on plays, and this was making for very short possessions for the Pipers.
On the first drive of the second half, Hamline was forced to punt when Pipers QB Tim Bona’s pass fell incomplete on third and six. Back on the ground the Royals rode their Three Kings for six carries and 44 yards and got two completions from Peterson for 40 more yards that moved to the Hamline 12, but that is where the drive stalled. Nathaniel Van Loon came on for the 29-yard field goal and drilled it and it was 31-7.
The Pipers would finally respond, and they would do it quickly thanks to a 50-yard pass from Bona to Sherman on the first play of the drive that put the ball down on the Bethel 18. Three plays later Duncan willed himself into the end zone on an 11-yard touchdown run, and the score was 31-14.
Bethel would turn the ball over on downs at the Hamline 30 on their next possession, and the Pipers began a 12-play drive that moved them to the Bethel 13-yard line. On a third and 11 play Bona attempted a short pass, but Philip Peterson made a great play to intercept the ball and deny Hamline points.
With the ball back in the hands of their offense, the Royals moved 91-yards on six-plays before Tusler scored on an eight-yard burst to make it a 38-14 game. Tusler was the star of the drive, with a 66-yard dash down to the Hamline 12 to go along with his eight-yard score. For the day he finished with 124 yards on 12 carries, and had three scores, plus he had three catches for 55 more yards.
Tusler was not the only Bethel back having a big day. Klitzke showed how hard he is to tackle, gaining 134 yards on 15 carries for an 8.9 yards per carry average. The Marquardt brothers combined for 13 carries and 61 yards, with younger brother Bryce also making five catches for 108 yards and a TD. Peterson continues to prove why he is one of the toughest passers to defend, completing 19-28 attempts for 263 yards.
For the Pipers, Duncan finished with 121 yards on 26 carries and Sherman had four catches for 95 yards and a score. Bona finished 22-38 for 217 yards and a TD.
For the Bethel defense it was another outstanding performance. While the Pipers gained 345-yards, the Royals held one of the most dominant backs in the conference to 121 yards and made him work for every yard. David Morgan led the team with 10 tackles and Will Van Duzer and Steven Plocker each added seven more. It was an outstanding performance by the group that continues to be one of the most dominate defensive squads in the MIAC.
The win moves the Royals to 4-1 on the season, with the team having a non-conference game against the University of Chicago next weekend. Hamline welcomes St. Thomas to town in the second game of a really tough three game stretch that will see the Pipers head to Concordia two weeks from now.
By Robert Pannier