It was the home opener for the Bethel Royals football team on Saturday afternoon as they welcomed the University of Wisconsin-River Falls to town. The Royals would jump out to a 20-0 lead in the first quarter on their way to a 32-27 victory. Sophomore tailback Sam Gibas had another big afternoon, rushing for 159 yards and two touchdowns as Bethel moved to 2-0 for the first time since 2013.
UWRF would receive the opening kickoff but would be forced to punt after just three plays. The punt went only 25 yards, downed at the Bethel 48. From there, the Royals moved down the field thanks to the play of quarterback Jaran Roste. He had three huge pass completions on the drive, including a 16 yarder to Mathias Durie on the second play of the drive when Bethel was faced with a first and 15. He also completed a 14 yard pass to Joel Koenecke as well as a 20 yarder to the wide receiver. That put the ball at the Falcons 12. Three plays later, Roste found Drew Larsen for the 9 yard touchdown reception to put Bethel on top, 6-0.
The Falcons would be forced to punt on their next drive as well, giving Bethel the ball at their own 24. On the second play of the drive, Roste connected with Sam Gibas on a short pass play that Gibas turned into a 33 yard gain. Later in the drive, Gibas would run for 16 yards on second and 11 to give the Royals a first down at the Falcons 16 yard line. Gideon Erhabor then barreled forward for 13 yards to the three and Gibas would score on the next play to put BU up by 13.
UW-River Falls was forced to punt on their next possession as well, and Owen Schommer got off a nice kick that was fielded by Tavian Swanson at his own 46. Swanson avoided a couple of tackles, then found an opening and went 53 yards on the return before he was finally tackled at the Falcons 1 yard line. Erhabor scored on the next play and Bethel had given themselves a 20-0 lead.
A special team’s play would help UWRF to get on the board. The ensuing kickoff came to Antoin Kealhoa was fielded at his own 2 yard line. He avoided a couple of tackles before racing 61 yards to the Bethel 37. Quarterback Ben Beckman completed two big passes to Trenton Monson, one for 11 yards and the other for 20, putting the ball at the Royals 1 yard line. Beckman then kept the ball, scoring to cut the deficit to 13.
A high-scoring first quarter turned into a no scoring second one, as neither team could find the end zone. The two teams combined for five punts and one turnover on downs. That came when Bethel moved 68 yards to the Falcons 6 yard line where they were faced with a fourth and 3. The coaching staff opted to go for it, but Roste was tackled for a 2 yard loss to turn the ball over.
Each team would get on the board in the third quarter. UW-River Falls would score on their second possession of the half. Starting from their own 29, Beckman first found Evan Verhota for 12 yards and first down. Two plays later, the quarterback connected with Alex Traxler for 17 more yards and another first down at the Bethel 38 yard line. A 36 yard pass connection with Alex Herink went for a touchdown to pull the Falcons within six.
The Royals responded right away, moving 63 yards in 11 plays to give themselves a 12 point lead. Jake Marsh took over as quarterback and opened the drive with a 10 yard completion to Erhabor. On third and five at the River Falls 48, Marsh connected with Larsen for 18 yards and a first down. It would be another big third down conversion by Marsh, this time connecting with Koenecke on third and 9 at the 18 as the pass completion went for a touchdown. The two-point conversion attempt failed as the Royals led 26-14.
The Falcons had a golden opportunity to cut this deficit to five when they moved on their next possession to the Bethel 10 yard line where they faced a first and goal. After a Sam Altena one yard gain, three times Beckman looked to find a receiver, but pressure and tough defense led to incompletions on each pass play, turning the ball over on downs.
ethel had the ball at their own 9 yard line, but would fumble on second and 12, giving the ball back to UW-River Falls. The Falcons were faced with a third and five when it looked like they had a touchdown, but Alex Herink was called for pass interference, moving the ball back to the 20, where it was third and goal. An incompletion made it fourth and goal, and Beckman’s pass to Evan Evrhota was knocked away by Dawson Brown. However, a holding call on the Royals away from the play gave UWRF a fresh set of downs, and Altena would score from four yards out three plays later to cut the deficit to six. The point after attempt was blocked.
On the next possession for UW-River falls, Beckman’s pass on third and nine was intercepted by Drew Ragsdale and returned 15 yards to the Falcons 34 yard line. Four plays later, Gibas scored from 10 yards out to restore the lead back to 12.
The Falcons would quickly move down the field on their next possession, going 75 yards in just 95 seconds to cut the Royals lead to five. Beckman connected on a 40 yard strike to Herink for a touchdown to make it 32-27.
UW-River Falls would go for the onside kick, but Brendan Whalen recovered the ball and the Royals would run out the clock for the five point victory.
Sam Gibas led the Bethel Royals offense with 25 carries for 159 yards and two touchdowns. He also had two catches for 40 yards. Jaran Roste threw for 180 yards and a score on 14 of 19 passing. Joel Koenecke has six receptions for 100 yards and a TD. On defense, Bethel was led by linebacker Dawson Brown, who recorded 13 tackles for the second consecutive week.
UW-River Falls was led by Ben Beckman, who was 18 of 39 passing for 235 yards and two touchdowns. Alex Herink had two receptions for 76 yards and two scores. The defense was led by Max Praschak, who had 19 tackles for the Falcons.
The Bethel Royals will look to move to 3-0 next Saturday when they welcome Gustavus Adolphus to Arden Hills. Kickoff is scheduled for 1:00.
Read Feature on Falcons Head Coach Matt Walker.
By Robert Pannier