Bethel Royals Edge Gusties in Nail-Biter, 35-33
Earlier this week, Bethel University Head Football Coach Steve Johnson expressed a lot of concern about taking on Gustavus Adolphus. It was the Gusties homecoming game and they were coming off a game where they gave St. John’s everything they could handle. The Coach believed that this may be his team’s toughest challenge of the season to this point, and that proved to the case on Saturday, as the Royals had to battle back to take the lead in the fourth quarter, then hold off a two point conversion attempt to prevail, 35-33.
The Royals got off to a great start. The Gusties took the opening kickoff but turned the ball over on the fourth play of the game when Max Janes intercepted a Michael Veldman pass, returning it 15 yards to that Gustavus 33. Bethel stayed on the ground, using eight straight running plays before they finally found the end zone. That is when quarterback Jaran Roste scored from one yard out to make it 7-0.
On their third possession, Bethel University scored again. Starting from their own 32, the ground attack continually moved the ball forward as the Royals ran on six of the first nine plays. As the first quarter ended, Bethel faced a fourth and 4. The team went for it, and running back Sam Gibas gave them a fresh set of downs with a five yard carry to the 10. On the next play, Roste connected with Drew Larsen who battled his way past two defenders and into the end zone to make it 14-0.
Bethel looked like they would roll, but things quickly turned. It started when the defense made a huge play, stuffing a fourth and 1 play, giving the Gusties the ball at the Bethel 28. A Veldman 12 yard completion to Brayton Finch gave the team a fresh set of downs, but they looked like they were going to be stopped when they faced at a fourth and 11 at the Royals 15. Gustavus opted to go for it and they were about to turn the ball over on downs when the pass fell incomplete, but Cale Ferrin was called for pass interference on the play. With the ball at the two, David Peal scored to cut the Gusties deficit to seven.
It was 14-7 heading into the half and would stay that way through much of the third quarter as both defenses took control of this contest. Finally, with a little less than four minutes left in the third, the Gusties would tie the score.
After taking possession at their own 25, Veldman led them down the field, making a huge third down and 10 conversion when he hit Brice Panning for 11 yards to the Bethel 43. With a second and 7 play at the Royals 14, the Gusties quarterback found Panning for a touchdown to tie the score.
Bethel responded with a nine play, 65 yard drive to retake the lead. Roste started the drive with a completion to Gibas that he turned into a 15 yard gain. Bethel then went to the ground, rushing on five of the next seven plays. On third and six at the Gusties 35, Roste went over the top and found John Carlson, who hauled in the pass and continued to the 12 before he was dragged down by two defenders. On the next play, Gibas took the carry and burst into the end zone to make it 21-14.
Gustavus Adolphus responded themselves, going 70 yards in 10 plays to tie the score again. The drive looked like it would end quickly when Veldman was dropped by Levin Duininick on the first play and the next pass fell incomplete. That set up a third and 16, where the Gusties quarterback came up big, connecting with Kirk for a 36 yard gain down the sideline and into Bethel territory. On third and 10, at the Royals 40, Veldman kept the drive alive once again, finding Panning for 11 yards and a first down. Each time GAC was faced with a third and long, Veldman delivered, including on third and 7 at the 15 when he hit Dalton Thelen for a touchdown, tying the score at 21.
On the ensuing kickoff, Andrew Abegglen pooch kicked the ball wanting to prevent the Royals a return. However, the ball hit of a Royals player and was recovered by Gustavus, giving the Gusties the ball at the Bethel 30. Four plays later, Finch hauled in a Velman pass and ran for the end zone, scoring to make it 27-21. The snap on the extra point was bad, forcing Brady Essig to the throw the ball, but his attempt was picked off. That would prove to be huge.
Trailing for the first time in the game, Gibas helped to put his team back on top. After a pass interference call put the Royals at the Gusties 25, Gibas found some daylight, racing 14 yards before he was pushed out of bounds at the 11. On the next play, he moved the ball to the six. Two plays later, Roste found Larsen again, this time for a four yard touchdown to make it 28-27.
Bethel extended their lead to eight thanks to another big defensive play. On the first play of the next drive for Gustavus, Jacob Hall picked off a Veldman pass, returning it 26 yards to the 17. Four plays later, Roste kept the ball, scoring from one yard out to make it 35-27.
That set up the dramatic conclusion. The Gusties started their next drive at their own 21 with 3:56 left in the game. Veldman was deadly on this drive, completing his firs six pass attempts, including three to Panning. That moved the ball to the Bethel nine, with just 25 seconds left in the contest. On first and goal, his pass attempt fell incomplete, but the next attempt found Panning for his second touchdown of the game. With 13 seconds left, the Gusties had to go for it, but Veldman’s pass attempt was incomplete. Roste recovered the onside kick to preserve the two point win.
Sam Gibas led the Bethel offense, rushing for 112 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries. Roste completed 16 of 21 passes for 162 yards and two scores. He also gained 65 yards on the ground and added two touchdowns. Drew Larsen had four catches for 29 yards and two TDs.
The defense made four interceptions and had three sacks. Mike Delich has 1.5 sacks and Cale Ferrin had an interception and seven tackles, tied for the team lead on the day.
For the Gusties, Michael Veldman was 22 of 41 passing for 269 yards and four touchdowns. Brice Panning had nine receptions for 122 yards and two touchdowns.
The Bethel University Royals (3-0) return home next week where they will welcome Carleton College (2-2). Kickoff is scheduled for 1 PM.
By Robert Pannier