After a slow start on offense, the Bethel College football team got its running game going for a 34-14 win over Bethany College Saturday in the season opener at Thresher Stadium.
Zach Esau rushed for 102 yards on 17 carries with three touchdowns. All of his scores came in the second half. Esau passed for 59 yards.
“It was the first game of the year and we were overthinking everything,” Esau said of the first half. “We just had to play our game and things would eventually work out. They tried a few things on defense. They ran some stunts in there that threw us off. Once we got that figured out, we took off.”
Bethel wins its season opener for the first time in five years — 37-6 over Haskell Indian Nations University. Bethel also wins two in a row, dating back to last season.
“It feels awesome,” Esau said. “We just have to keep stringing things together. We still didn’t play a very good game. We have to work on some things in practice. We’ll be good.”
“The first series of the year, the first game of the year, we had to adjust to playing games again,” Bethel coach Terry Harrison said. “They were bouncing around. We had no film on them, so we had no idea what they were going to do.”
The defense held Bethany to 103 yards total offense, one yard rushing total. Bethel racked up 393 yards total offense.
“They improved tremendously,” Harrison said. “They worked hard in the off-season. That showed up tonight.”
Joseph Winfield led the defense with 10 total tackles, five solo.
Another area of improvement was physical strength, which showed as the game went one. Bethel had receivers knocking over linebackers late in the game.
“My whole career, I’ve been a weightlifting guy,” Harrison said. “I’ve been a weightlifting coach. We had guys working hard in the weight room in the off-season. We’re not the biggest team, but we’re as strong and fast as anybody.”
The only black mark on the Thresher performance was turnovers and penalties. Both Swede scores came on turnovers. Bethel lost five fumbles.
“We had multiple mishaps,” Harrison said. “We had trouble with snaps. We had penalties. That was very frustrating. It’s some first-game stuff that’s embarrassing. All you can do is go back to work.”
For Bethany, Austin Denson hit 19 of 37 passes for 103 yards.
Neither team generated much offense early. Bethel got the ball with good field position after stopping a Bethany fake punt attempt.
The Threshers got into Bethany territory late in the first quarter, but penalties for the Bethel to take a 45-yard field goal attempt for Logan Demond, which went just wide right.
On the following possession, Rudy Juarez scampered 50 yards for a Bethel touchdown.
Bethel lost a fumble inside its own 15 after a sack early in the second quarter. On the following play Denson hit Antoise Fields for a 13-yard touchdown pass.
A Bethel kickoff return for a touchdown was called back for illegal formation, now a 15-yard penalty.
After trading more punts, Bethel mounted a drive late in the half that ended on Bethany, missing a 34-yard field goal attempt.
Bethel used a long kickoff return by Trey Palmer to mount a 48-yard drive capped by a 27-yard Chantz Scurry touchdown run.
Bethel mounted another drive late in the period, scoring on a 35-yard Esau run. A bad snap caused the extra-point attempt to fail.
Bethany got the ball back off a Bethel turnover, but gave it up on downs at the Thresher 40 with five seconds left in the third quarter.
Another Bethel drive ended on a fumble in Bethany territory early in the fourth quarter. Again the Thresher defense held Bethany on downs.
On the following play, Esau rushed for 59 yards for a score.
13 stripped the ball from a Bethel ball carrier and returned it 74 yards for a score.
Bethel plays at 1 p.m. Saturday at Avila. The Eagles were trailing Sterling 27-21 with 6:59 in the third quarter, when the game was suspended because of lightning.
“They are not new to the conference now,” Harrison said. “We’ve seen them already. They are a very talented team, as talented as anybody. We’re going to have to work hard to beat them.”
1q. Btl. Juarez 50-yd. run (Francis kick) 1:45
2q. Bty. Fields 13-yd. pass from Denson (90 kick) 11:20
3q. Btl. Scurry 28-yd. run (Francis kick) 12:59
3q. Btl. Esau 35-yd. run (pass failed) 3:18
4q. Btl. Esau 59-yd. run (Francis kick) 12:25
4q. Btl. Esau 17-yd. run (Francis kick) 8:57
4q. Bty. Kelley 74-yd. fumble return (Townsend kick) 3:52
Time of poss.;21:03;29:58
RUSHING — Bethany: Caviness 4-6, Denson 12-3, D.Jones 11-2, B.Jones 1-0, Lucero 1-(-10). Bethel: Esau 17-102, Scurry 8-58, Juarez 2-56, Harrison 2-49, Barnes 3-35, Green 5-21, Garcia 4-10, Murray 3-3, Starlin-Driver 3-(-1).
PASSING — Bethany: Denson 19-37-0, 103 yards. Bethel: Esau 5-7-0, 59 yards.
RECEIVING — Bethany: Mendoza 5-37, Fields 5-14, D.Jones 4-26, Molette 2-16, Gray 2-8, Wolfe 1-2. Bethel: Galliart 2-32, Murray 1-14, Harrison 1-11, Green 1-2.
Missed field goals — Bethel: Demond 43 (WR), 34 (WL).