|Bethel relies heavily on freshmen in the receiving
corps, such as Jared Schultz.
Photo by Ryan Coleman, d3photography.com
By Brian Hunsicker
The football adage goes that it’s hard to beat a team twice in the same season. It’s a central theme when teams from the same conference meet in the playoffs, as Bethel and St. Thomas – two MIAC foes – do Saturday.
Both coaches agree, but up to a point.
St. Thomas coach Glenn Caruso sees positives and negatives: the benefit of one more win, though that’s tempered by the fact that his team cannot afford any letup in its preparation. Bethel coach Steve Johnson said that he’s been asked by media outlets about the Royals seeking revenge for the Oct. 23 loss; that’s not a factor, he said, since both teams will still need to execute the fundamentals.
Home for the holidays
Miles traveled by UST's opponents: 4,272
But this is a game that figures to go beyond platitudes; the two schools are neighbors, after all, their campuses are separated by less than 10 miles. Their regular season matchup was a taut affair, with Tommy Becker’s interception in the final minutes allowing the Tommies to close out a 10-6 win. Local media has been paying attention too: Johnson said his team got a jolt out of ending practice one day this week, only to find crews from three television stations waiting to do interviews.
And, as Johnson said, it will come down to fundamentals.
“They’re very comfortable in their own skin,” Caruso said of Bethel. “They play great defense, they can run the football and they take selected deep shots.”
|Bethel coach Steve Johnson, top, St. Thomas coach Glenn Caruso know each other's team well.|
Indeed, St. Thomas’ offense – which ranks 14th in Division III in points per game – and Bethel’s defense will be the marquee matchup. The Royals’ unit boasts incredible team statistics: top 10 nationally in rushing defense, scoring defense and total defense.
That’s not to say the other the side of the ball for both teams won’t matter. The Tommies will have to find a way to stop senior running back Logan Flannery, who averages just over 138 rushing yards per game. Flannery hasn’t been held under 100 yards since a late October win against Concordia-Moorhead.
Bethel should also benefit from the return of left tackle Kyle Wahlund, who missed the Royals’ second-round win against Wheaton with an injury. Johnson said he expects Wahlund to be back in the lineup.
As with the pros and cons over meeting for the second time this season, both teams see benefits to having the game at St. Thomas. Travel will be easy for Bethel – unlike the past two weeks, which saw them travel more than 600 miles combined to Wartburg and Wheaton. And St. Thomas has a decided homefield advantage, boasting a 15-game winning streak at O’Shaughnessy Stadium.
Rarely does early December provide a regional rivalry game, and that – aside from the platitudes and the matchups – may make this game most interesting.
“The coaches, we’re tight-knit in this league,” Johnson said. “We want to beat the socks off of each other, and this is a rivalry. But it’s a rivalry that’s good, not a jackass rivalry.”