Despite totaling more offense and outrushing NCC throughout the
entire contest, Bethel's playoff journey came to a close Saturday
after falling to North Central 41-17. The Royals (12-1, 8-0 MIAC)
manufactured 392 yards of offense, but five turnovers — the
most in a single game throughout 2013 — haunted Bethel and
allowed the Cardinals (13-0, 7-0 CCIW) to advance to the final four
teams of the NCAA Playoffs, where they will play Mount Union next
BU's defeat forces them to exit the NCAA Division III Championships — a place they have been three of the last four years. In fact, the Royals' seniors finished their career with a 6-3 postseason record and an overall mark of 41-8 (83.7) to go along with a MIAC Championship and a NCAA Division III West Region Championship (2010).
After holding North Central to a three-and-out on their first drive, the Royals scored a field goal on their first possession. Bethel nearly scored a touchdown on the drive, but field conditions tripped up Marshall Klitzke at the 5-yard line—another component to haunt BU throughout the day. As a result, Andrew O'Reilly knocked in a 31-yard attempt to give Bethel the early lead.
The Cardinals came back to score three unanswered touchdowns, including a score that was set up from a Bethel fumble. That put the Royals down 21-3 at the midway point, but definitely not out. Bethel composed an exceptional opening drive in the second half, but a fumble at the North Central 10-yard line handed the ball back to the Cardinals and kept the Royals empty handed.
Bethel didn't quit though, as they scored on their next possession — trimming the gap to 21-10 with 10:50 left in the third quarter. But perhaps the biggest blow of the game came on the very next play, when North Central's Jordan Dean ran the ensuing kickoff back to the BU eight-yard line. That set up an NCC touchdown, which pushed the Cardinal's lead back to 17.
North Central scored a couple more times before Marshall Klitzke found the end zone for the Royals on a four-yard scamper that capped off a 13-play, 61-yard drive.
Klitzke led the Bethel ground game with 93 yards on 15 carries (6.2 yards per carry) and one touchdown. Senior Jesse Phenow picked up 90 yards on 11 carries (8.2 yards per carry) and also had a TD. As a unit, BU churned up 239 yards on the ground on 38 carries.
Tom Keefe led the Royals aerial attack with 153 yards on 17-of-32 passing with two interceptions. Keefe hit Mitch Hallstrom six times for 64 yards and Jay Hilbrands five times for 45 yards.
Landon Mathis led Bethel's defense with 11 tackles, including six solo, and one breakup. Landon's brother, Seth, as well as Mehlhorn brothers, J.D. and Matt, all finished with seven tackles. Landen Strilzuk also added four tackles, two pass breakups, and one forced fumble.