Second Half Surge Leads Bethel Royals to 30-23 Win over Gustavus Adolphus
When the Bethel Royals and their No. 1 ranked defense in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) took to the field Saturday against the Gustavus Adolphus Gusties and their No. 1 ranked offense, there was no doubt that this was going to be a grueling contest. This had the makings of a classic showdown of strength verse strength, that saw Bethel’s running game and the weather play a significant role in the outcome of this contest.
This was a game full of exciting matchups. Gusties quarterback Mitch Hendricks entered as the top passer in all of Division-III football. His top two receivers, Matt and Gabe Boyce, were both ranked in the top 15 in yards receiving and Matt was tied for most touchdown receptions in the country.
Bethel had their own stars. Their quarterback, Erik Peterson, is the reigning MVP and is having another MVP type season for the Royals. Their Three Kings backfield of Marshall Klitzke, Bridgeport Tusler and Brandon Marquardt was averaging 170 yards and three touchdowns a game. They had the top defense in the conference, built around a stout defensive line, an outstanding group of linebackers and the most dynamic group of defensive backs in the conference.
The match-up of the Gusties high powered passing game verses the Royals secondary was a big key for the game. Could Hendricks find open receivers? How would Josh Treimer, David Morgan, Matt Mehlhorn and Dan Leidall match-up against the high-powered receivers of GAC?
If that wasn’t enough of a storyline to follow, there was the issue of the weather. A 43 degree temperature at kickoff and a 25-plus mph wind made for difficult conditions to throw, especially heading toward the south end of the field, and played a major factor on how the game was played.
The Gusties took the opening kickoff and, against the wind, were mounting a great drive, moving the ball to the Bethel 15. There, on fourth and six, Hendricks pass to Gabe Boyce fell incomplete and GAC would wind up empty-handed.
The Royals would be forced into a three-n-out, but the key to the drive was a 75-yard punt by Phillip Peterson that was downed at the one-yard line. With terrible field position and the wind in their faces, the Gusties played a little more conservatively and were forced to punt after a three-n-out of their own.
That set-up the Royals at the Gustavus Adolphus 42-yard line. From there the team put together a quick six-play drive that was capped off by a 24-yard score by Tusler. The freshman back made a couple of great cuts before moving to his right and down the sidelines for the score.
When the second quarter began the Gusties had the wind to their backs and they made the most of it. The home team put together a 13-play drive that went 59-yards. From the two, Luke Martinez burst through the line and scored to tie the game. Hendricks completed eight of nine passes on the drive and had a huge eight-yard run to the two that set-up the touchdown.
On their next drive they would take the lead when Hendricks hit Matt Boyce for his 14th touchdown reception of the season. The 18-yard strike gave the Gusties a 13-7 lead following a missed extra point.
Neither team was able to mount much of a drive after that. On offense the Royals QB was struggling to complete passes into the wind, but their defense was smothering the Gusties attack as well. The Gusties did look like they would get a huge play on their fifth drive of the half when Matt Boyce got a step on Treimer and looked like he would go all the way for a touchdown if he made the catch, but Treimer, aka Optimus Treim, made a great play to disrupt Boyce’s concentration and force an incomplete pass.
The half ended with Gustavus Adolphus up 13-7. Air Marshall Hendricks completed 17 of his 31 passes, but only for 119 yards, and they were mainly on short pass plays. The Royals defense was doing a great job of taking away the long pass play.
While the Royals defense was looking really good, the Gustavus defense was making a statement that they were a good defense as well. They held Peterson to just 14 yards passing on 4-14 and intercepted a pass. Bethel had just 102 yards of total offense and were struggling to get any kind of momentum going.
Their chances of making a comeback looked even longer in the second half for two reasons. First the Royals would start the half with the wind in their faces again, and star linebacker Landon Mathis suffered a knee injury in the first half and was done for the game.
After the Gusties defense forced a punt, Martinez carried the load, moving the team methodically down the field to the Royals nine. There, Thomas Schleusener nailed a 26-yard field goal and it was 16-7.
On the Royuls next drive it looked like the Gusties defense and the wind were going to force another punt. It was third and eight and Peterson had very little success throwing into the wind, but he found Charles Johnson over the middle on a slant, and the wide receiver raced to the end zone for the 58-yard score. A game the Gusties were dominating took a turn that Gustavus could not have wanted to see.
GAC looked like they would get a chance to get one more score before the third quarter ended, moving the ball to the Royals 38, but they decided to go for it on fourth and two. Martinez took the ball but was stuffed for no gain, giving the ball back to the Royals. It was a huge stop that came at a big price as outstanding defensive lineman Will Van Duzer was hurt on the play and would leave the game permanently.
The excitement of the stop didn’t last long when Peterson’s pass on second and 23 was intercepted by Michael Hintze who returned the ball to the Gusties 39. They could not do anything on offense, however, and were forced to punt, putting the Royals at their own 17 but with the wind at their backs.
Two runs made it third and eight again, the same down and distance that Peterson had completed the touchdown pass on earlier in the half. He would go to the air again, throwing deep for wide out Bryce Marquardt. Hintze had incredible position and looked like he was going to make the play, but the ball bounced off of his hands and Marquardt made an absolutely amazing juggling catch to haul in the 49-yard catch and bring the Royals bench to life. One play later Kltizke took the ball to his right and bowled over two Gusties defenders before being tackled at the two. On the next play he rolled into the end zone untouched and the after the two point conversion the Royals had a 22-16 lead.
GAC was forced to punt again on their next possession, giving Bethel the ball back at their 39-yard line. This time they turned to their senior running back, Brandon Marquardt. Marquardt had looked hurt on a play at the end of the third quarter, but instead of slowing him down, the injury seemed to anger him and he became a beast. The running back carried the ball seven times on the drive and scored from eight-yards out to put his team up 28-16. Peterson would then run for the two-point conversion to make it 30-16.
There was just 1:52 left in the game and the Gusties needed two scores. That is an impossible task for most quarterbacks, but not for Air Marshall Hendricks. The junior led his team on an eight-play drive that went 79-yards in 1:28. Hendricks pass to Matt Boyce in the corner of the end zone cut the deficit to seven. For Boyce it was his 15th touchdown of the season, setting a school record.
The Gusties attempted an onside kick but Bethel recovered. Peterson took a knee on the next play and the game was over.
In a battle of outstanding quarterbacks, neither had numbers they were accustomed to, but both played exceptionally well in difficult playing conditions and against stout defenses. Peterson finished 8-19 for 129 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. Hendricks was 25-48 for 204 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.
Matt Boyce had 11 catches for 93 yards and two scores, and brother Gabe had nine more for 81 yards. Martinez had 30 carries for 100 yards and a touchdown.
On the ground the Royals got three outstanding performances out of the Three Kings. Marquardt had 87 yards on 13 carries, including 83 in the second half and a touchdown. Klitzke had 14 carries for 75 yards and a TD, and Tusler has 13 carries for 70 yards and a score.
Bryce Marquardt had three catches for 65 yards, including that 49-yard game changing play. Charles Johnson had just one catch, but 58-yards and a score.
The Fantastic Four secondary of the Royals had 26 tackles on the day, with Morgan adding an interception. The group held Hendricks to less than half his average for the season, and just three points after the half. The defense as a whole had outstanding numbers, especially considering that they lost Mathis for a significant amount of the game, and Van Duzer for the last quarter.
The Bethel Royals will travel to St. John’s next week in a game that will determine who will win the MIAC. Gustavus Adolphus will travel to Concordia looking to end their two-game losing streak. The Bethel-St. John’s game will be the Minor League Sports Report MIAC Featured Game of the Week.
By Robert Pannier