St. Peter, Minn. – The Gustavus Adolphus football team suffered a 41-21 loss to No. 15 Bethel University on Saturday afternoon at Hollingsworth Field. Led by an efficient offense, Bethel built on a 28-7 halftime lead before scoring two touchdowns in the third quarter to lead by as much as 41-7. Bethel quarterback Erik Peterson stole the show with a breakout performance in the passing game. Peterson was 27-for-29 for 315 yards with three touchdowns through the air.
Gustavus drops to 2-5 overall and 1-4 in the MIAC with the loss, while Bethel is now 6-1 overall and 4-1 in the MIAC.
Bethel's strong first half began with a seven-play, 68-yard scoring drive on the first possession of the game. On fourth-and-goal from the two-yard-line, Erik Peterson pitched the ball to Derek Waldbillig who found the end zone for the early touchdown, giving Bethel a 7-0 lead after the extra point.
After Bethel forced a three-and-out on the next possession, Gustavus' defense came up with a turnover when Xavier Fust (So., Columbia Heights, Minn.) forced a fumble that was recovered by Zach Dilger (South St. Paul, Minn.) at the Gustavus 24-yard line. The Gusties couldn't capitalize on the fumble and were forced to punt on the next drive.
The Royals extended their lead to 14-0 with :57 seconds remaining in the first quarter when Peterson found Hans Duininck on a slant from 19 yards out. The score was the first of what was five consecutive touchdown-scoring possessions that extended into the third quarter for Bethel.
The Bethel lead was pushed to 21-0 after Jesse Phenow pushed his way across the goal line at the 11:16 mark of the second quarter.
Gustavus responded to the big lead with a long drive of its own, going 75 yards on 12 plays to cut the gap to 21-7 with five minutes remaining in the half. On third-and-11 from the Bethel 15-yard-line, Muresuk Mena (Sr., Inver Grove Heights, Minn.) connected with Michael Hintze (So., Brooklyn Park, Minn.) who made a diving catch in the corner of the end zone. The touchdown catch was Hintze's second of the season.
Bethel took back the momentum heading into halftime with a 12-play drive on it's next possession. For the second time in the half, Phenow pounded the ball into the end zone, this time from one yard out, to put the Royals on top 28-7 at the break.
The Royals totaled 265 yards compared to Gustavus' 100 in the opening 30 minutes. Erik Peterson led an efficient aerial attack, going 16-for-17 for 196 yards passing. Mena was 2-of-6 for 29 yards through the air while leading the team in rushing 39 yards on 11 carries.
Despite picking up a pair of first downs on their opening drive of the second half, the Gusties turned the ball over when David Morgan picked off Mena at the Bethel 13-yard-line on a pass intended for Phillip Butler (Jr., St. Paul, Minn.) deep down the middle.
Bethel went up 35-7 after an eight-play, 90-yard drive was capped off by a 12-yard touchdown pass from Peterson to Jay Hilbrands with 8:59 left in the third quarter.
The Royals' final score of the day come at the 1:36 mark of the third quarter when Peterson found Waldbillig from six yards out. Following a missed extra point, Bethel's lead was 41-7, its largest margin of the game.
The Gusties put together their best drive of the afternoon following the Waldbillig score, going 80 yards on 17 plays in 8:05 to cut the lead to 41-14. Facing fourth-and-goal from the Bethel two-yard-line, Mena plunged across the line on his second effort for the first of his two rushing touchdowns.
Once Zach Stackhouse (Sr., Houston, Minn.) forced Peterson to fumble on Bethel's next drive, Gustavus took control at the Bethel 40 going in. On fourth-and-one from the 16, Mena opted to sneak for the first down. After getting lost in the mass of bodies that quickly filled any gap, the senior quarterback spun off the scrum and scampered 16 yards untouched for the touchdown.
Mena led the team in rushing with 89 yards on 26 carries (3.4 ypc) in the game. He was also 8-for-17 for 64 yards passing with one touchdown and two interceptions. Butler finished behind Mena with 83 yards rushing on eight carries (10.4 ypc).
Gustavus totaled 248 yards (184 rush, 64 pass) in the game compared to Bethel who gained a total of 452 yards (137 rush, 315 pass).
Both squads were efficient in the red zone, as Gustavus went 3-for-3 with three touchdowns and Bethel went 6-for-7 with six touchdowns. The Royals won the time of possession battle 34:31-to-25:29 and were 7-of-12 on third down.
The Gustavus defense was led by Joe Hass (Jr. Mission, Kan.) who recorded a game-high 10 tackles (3 solo). Torey Asao (Jr., Chaska, Minn.) had nine tackles (5 solo), while Lucas Kleinschrodt (Jr., Alden, Minn.) had seven.
The Gustavus football team will look for a rebound next weekend when it heads on the road to Collegeville to battle Saint John's at 1:00 p.m. on Oct. 27. Saint John's, who was off this weekend, is 3-4 overall and 1-4 in the MIAC.