After three weeks of struggles, the Bethel College football team finally turned a close game into a win.
A pair of touchdowns in a 21-second span late in the first half gave the Threshers a lead and some momentum in the second half, rolling into a 29-7 win Saturday on Fall Fest at Thresher Stadium.
Bethel wins for the first time on Fall Fest since 2007. The Threshers improve to 3-4, 2-3 in KCAC play. Bethel stays within two games of the lead in the conference with four games remaining.
Southwestern drops to 1-6, 1-4 in KCAC play.
"Hats off to the players and the coaches," Bethel coach Marty Mathis said. "We've been trying to stay healthy all week. Staying healthy means talking to the kids about washing their hands a lot, getting enough sleep and eating right. We eat breakfast together every day, so they are up at seven. That's a big thing that they are taking seriously too. These young men know they are here to get a degree. That's how serious we are about things off the field."
Bethel racked up 503 yards in total offense, eight yards shy of the season high and only the fourth 500-yard game since 2008. The defense held the Moundbuilders to 227 yards total offense.
Bethel quarterback David Bronson hit 20 of 36 passes for 302 yards and two touchdowns, seven yards shy of his career best and putting him over 1,200 yards for the season. Tommy Alexander, who was held to 61 yards in three games because of injury, broke out with four catches for 136 yards and a score. Preston Oliver had 13 rushed for 113 yards and a touchdowns. Oliver equaled his season best rushing effort. Robert Smith had 16 carries for 50 yards.
"It felt amazing to be playing, to be back here with my team," said Alexander, a senior from San Diego. "This was the best thing ever. The last game I played was McPherson. I had a broken finger. Then I had surgery three weeks ago on my knee. ... It was us coming together as a team was the main thing. We've been working at that all season. We were struggling the past couple of weeks. We all came together today and it turned into a victory."
Terrence Toney had two interceptions. Nick Bartholomaus had 12 total tackles, seven solo, along with an interception, a sack assist and 1.5 tackles for a loss to earn KCAC defensive player of the week honors. Steve Jones added an interception.
"We planned on making plays," Toney, a sophomore from Cape May Court House, N.J., said. "We came in here trying to do what we had to do. When the secondary plays good, we all plays good. It felt good to finally get a win for the first time in four weeks. In all those games, especially the Sterling game, it was tough to lose those games. We finally came together as a team. We made sure we stopped their main receiver (Skylor Kistler). That was our main goal. That's what we went through on film all week."
"We were trying to bring some pressure," Mathis said. "It worked at times, and at other times it didn't. It could have been a different game. We were able to stop them a couple of times in the red zone. Toney had two picks. He's out top guy back there. He's very savy. He's really becoming a team player. Steven is a freshman from New Jersey, who has started at safety and corner. I'm excited about him for the future. Nick is our senior. He's our leader. He makes sure we run the right calls and are in the right place on the field. I'm so happy for him to get a pick and run it down the sideline."
For Southwestern, Tyler Crandall hit 11 of 29 passes for 101 yards with four interceptions. Anthony Sims had 21 carries for 86 yards rushing and a touchdown. Skylor Kistler had five catches for 62 yards.
Each team got into the red zone early in the half. Southwestern missed a field goal attempt. Bethel turned the ball over on downs.
The Threshers finally hit paydirt on a 67-yard strike from Bronson to Alexander. The PAT kick was shanked. On Southwestern's following play from scrimmage, a Bartholomaus interception set up a 20-yard touchdown run for Oliver. Bethel missed the two-point conversion attempt.
Toney ended the first half with an interception and long return, but was tackled as time expired.
"It was 0-0 through almost all of the first half," Mathis said. "It's hats off to both defenses. The Moundbuilders have two great inside linebackers — a 'mike' and a 'will.' That was very hard to block, and they were giving us fits. Our offense came alive in the second half. They're a great team and drove the ball on us several times."
Bethel opened the third quarter with a drive that ended on a fumble in Southwestern territory. The Thresher defense held and the offense finished the drive scoring on a 12-yard Smith run.
Southwestern finally got its offense on track, scoring on a four-yard Sims run. The drive featured penalties on both sides. Bethel was called for a penalty that gave Southwestern a first and goal on the four.
Bethel came right back with a 51-yard strike from Bronson to Alexander to set up a 31-yard Alexander Dettmer field goal. A long Southwestern kickoff return threatened to get the Moundbuilders back in the game, but Toney picked off a pass in the endzone on fourth down.
Bethel extended the lead with a 12-yard Oliver reception from Bronson with 5:47 in regulation. Bethel kept the 'Builders out of the end zone with a Jones pickoff with 2:36 to play. Bethel turned the ball back over two plays later, but Southwestern was hit with a 15-yard penalty and turned the ball back over on downs.
Bethel returns home for a 1:30 p.m. game Saturday against 1-6 Kansas Wesleyan. The Coyotes fell to rival Bethany 42-10 last week.
"They're like we were last year," Mathis said. "They have a new staff. They are recruiting hard. They are building new facilities over there. There is a lot of excitement over at Kansas Wesleyan. We're just hoping to get another home win here."
S-western 0 0 7 0 —7
Bethel 0 12 10 7 —29
2q. BC Alexander 67-yd. pass from Bronson (kick failed) 1:22
2q. BC Oliver 20-yd. run (run failed) 1:01
3q. BC Smith 12-yd. run (Dettmar kick) 6:14
3q. SC Sims 4-yd. run (Esparza kick) 1:59
3q. BC Dettmer 31-yd. field goal :51
4q. BC Oliver 12-yd. pass from Bronson (Dettmar kick) 5:47
First downs 18 25
Rushing-yards 4-126 33-177
Passing yards 101 326
Comp-att-int 11-32-4 21-40-0
Punts-avg. 7-41.7 5-33.6
Fumbles-lost 1-0 2-2
Penalties-yards 10-80 9-80
Time of poss. 28:03 32:09
RUSHING — Southwestern: Sims 21-86, Bradford 10-40, Strohl 1-9, DeNoon 1-5, Crandall 5-2, Langston 2-(-16). Bethel: Oliver 13-113, Smith 16-50, B.Steed 1-7, Bronson 2-7, team 1-0.
PASSING — Southwestern: Crandall 11-29-4, 101 yards; Langston 0-3-0, 0 yards. Bethel: Bronson 20-36-0, 302 yards; Haigler 1-2-0, 24 yards; B.Steed 0-2-0, 0 yards.
RECEIVING — Southwestern: Kistler 5-62, Marple 3-26, Bradford 3-13. Bethel: B.Steed 5-68, Alexander 4-136, Foster 3-27, Hernandez 2-38, Long 2-7, Head 2-6, M.Steed 1-24, Oliver 1-12, Wilson 1-8.
Missed field goals — SC: Esparza 42 (short).