MOORHEAD, Minn.—Bethel University forced seven turnovers and recorded over 500 yards of offense to emerge victorious in Saturday's showdown of the final unbeaten teams within the MIAC. The Royals (5-0, 3-0 MIAC), who were playing in what the Star Tribune called the small college Game of the Week for the second consecutive tilt, held the Cobbers (4-1, 2-1 MIAC) to 366 total yards and 22 points in the 45-22 triumph.
Bethel jumped out to a quick 21-0 lead after scoring three touchdowns on their first three drives. Jesse Phenow capped a 16-play, 69-yard drive on the opening possession with a one-yard plunge into the end zone. Marshall Klitzke's 25-yard run on 3rd-and-10 from the Concordia 33-yard-line led to the Royals initial touchdown.
Following Phenow's score was a Brandon Marquardt touchdown 8:47 into the first quarter, which was set up by a Landon Mathis forced fumble on the Cobber's ensuing drive at Concordia's own 31-yard-line.
That was just the beginning of the Cobber's nightmare, as quarterback Griffin Neal was intercepted by Mark Torppey at Bethel's 23-yard-line—leading to the Royals third touchdown in the opening 11 minutes of the game. On 3rd-and-eight from Bethel's 25-yard-line, Erik Peterson completed a pass to Mitch Hallstrom that went for a 75-yard score.
Concordia punted on the next drive, but just when they started to figure out the Royals offense—stopping them in the next possession—the Cobbers fumbled again. This time it was Luke Buttenhoff that stripped Concordia's Matt Peterson, as the Cobbers were driving deep in Bethel territory.
Erik Peterson tallied his second touchdown of the day with 2:07 left in the first half, however, this time he took matters into his own hands. Peterson rushed in from the Concordia 11-yard-line to give Bethel a 28-0 spread late in the second quarter. The Cobbers managed to get a touchdown with 0:03 left in the half, which cut BU's overall margin to 28-7.
Bethel's special teams continued the turnover trend, as they came right out of the gates and forced Concordia's Ben Zylstra to fumble on the opening kickoff of the half. Andrew O'Reilly padded BU's lead after the turnover with a 22-yard field goal.
Jesse Phenow tacked on his second touchdown of the day in the beginning of the fourth quarter, as his rush from two yards out pushed Bethel's lead to 38-14. The Cobber's Griffin Neal found Matt Peterson for a 14-yard touchdown with 10:24 left in the game, which with a two-point conversion, was the last point allowed by the Royal's defense.
Marshall Klitzke put the dagger in Saturday's contest after Luke Buttenhoff forced his second fumble of the game. Klitzke rushed for a five-yard touchdown that completed a 13-play, 35-yard drive and gave Bethel a 45-22 lead. Griffin Neal fumbled the rock on the Cobber's ensuing possession and a Jesse Phenow fumble recovery sealed the game for the Royals.
Bethel's balanced rushing attack went for 224 yards and five touchdowns. Brandon Marquardt finished with 123 yards on 16 carries, while Marshall Klitzke rushed for 103 yards on 16 carries. Both Marquardt and Klitzke tallied a rushing touchdown, while Jesse Phenow crossed the pylon twice in the red zone.
Erik Peterson finished the day 18-of-27 with two touchdowns in the air and one on the ground. Meanwhile, Peterson didn't throw one interception, but found seven different receivers. Mitch Hallstrom caught eight passes for 171 yards and a touchdown, while Jay Hilbrands recorded four catches for 60 yards.
Seth Mathis led Bethel's hard-nosed defense with 14 tackles on the day and an interception that he returned for eight yards. Ben Wahlquist recorded 11 tackles, whileLandon Mathis finished with six tackles, including a sack for a three-yard loss, and a forced fumble and recovery. Luke Buttenhoff forced two Concordia fumbles and Ben Hanson one, while Seth Mathis and Mark Torppey each had an interception. In all, the Royals finished with seven forced turnovers and zero turnovers themselves.
Bethel will host No. 6-ranked St. Thomas next Saturday at Royal Stadium. Kickoff for the highly anticipated MIAC matchup is scheduled for 1 p.m.