After a rather unusual pre-season, the Bethel College football team finally hits the field to host the Avila Eagles at 6 p.m. Saturday at Joe W. Goering Field in North Newton.
Bethel enters the season ranked 24th in the NAIA pre-season rankings. While Avila was not ranked in the NAIA coaches poll, the Eagles gained mention in some other polls.
Bethel is looking to improve on an 8-3 season, 7-3 in KCAC play. Avila was 7-3 overall and in the conference. Bethel downed the Eagles 54-34 last season in Kansas City, Mo.
The COVID-19 outbreak has caused disruptions in off-season activities, as well as pre-season routines, but Bethel coach Terry Harrison feels his squad handled the changes well.
"I feel like our guys handled it well," Harrison said. "We have a mature group. They realize everything we’ve done is for their safety."
Bethel lost its pre-season scrimmage with Benedictine to COVID precautions.
Harrison said the Eagles are still a mystery. They last met in week two of last season.
"You can read a media guide, but who knows?" Harrison said. "The John Jacobs kid has been their quarterback for the last couple of years, on and off, through injuries and other issues. He’s physically one of the most talented kids in the conference. That will be a challenge. Beyond that, we don’t know much about them. They have a good receiver. That will be a challenge for our defense. We’ll need to limit big plays in the passing game and limiting John Jacobs, escaping out of the pocket. On offense, we need to do what we do."
Last season, Jacobs hit 117 of 245 passes for 1,667 yards with 24 touchdowns against seven interceptions. He added 332 rushing yards with a pair of touchdowns.
Also returning is leading rusher Malik Nesbitt, who had 605 yards on 121 carries with five touchdowns. The leading receiver for Avila also returns in Devin Senerius, who had 44 catches for 601 yards and eight touchdowns. Christian Hopkins had 41 catches for 506 yards and 10 touchdowns.
The leading returning tackler on defense is Nikolas Furlow with 53 total. Furlow also had an interception and two fumble recoveries.
"On offense, they’ll be a spread team like everybody else," coach Harrison said. "On defense, we really don’t know. They list themselves as a 4-3. We’ll know on their first play."
For the Threshers, Camryn Harrison had 840 yards rushing with six touchdowns. Zach Esau rushed for 647 yards and passed for 690 yards. He rushed for 15 touchdowns and passed for eight. Chantz Scurry had 592 yards rushing with six touchdowns.
Bethel’s leading returning receiver is Brayden Francis with eight catches for 317 yards and five touchdowns.
Leading the Bethel defense is Joshua Seabolt with 101 total tackles, three sacks, two interceptions and a fumble recovery. Dominic Brown had 71 total tackles, a sack, five interceptions and two fumble recoveries.
"What will determine the game is how each team handles adversity," coach Harrison said. "Who can adapt on the fly when you don’t know much about each other."
Camryn Harrison, Scurry, offensive lineman Ryan Junkermeier, Seabolt and Brown were all named to the KCAC pre-season team released Wednesday.
Senerius, Furlow and return specialist Christian Hopkins were named to the team for Avila.
"We returned a bunch of kids who were all-conference," coach Harrison said. "When you do that, those things happen. Retention gets rewarded in college. That’s cool. We have talented players who deserve that. They have committed themselves to building something for the community."