Down 21-3 in the second quarter, things were looking grim for the Bethel College football team.
From there, the Thresher offense finally started coming alive and the defense started making stops. With two seconds remaining and the ball on the one-yard line, Zach Esau powered into the endzone to hand the Threshers a 39-35 win over Southwestern College Saturday in a clash of KCAC unbeatens at Thresher Stadium.
Chantz Scurry followed with a two-point conversion run to prevent a field goal from tying or beating Bethel.
"That’s what we’ve been running all year," Esau said. "That’s our go-to play. It’s a quarterback power off the edge. I have to stay on my feet. I got some good blocks. They were solid up there. That credit goes to the whole team. We start with a touchback. It’s that flexbone team in a two-minute offense."
"Sometimes when you have the career touchdown leader on the team, you just have to give him the ball," Bethel coach Terry Harrison said. "It was between him and Scurry."
Esau finished the day eight of 10 passing for 197 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He extends to 35 his career rushing touchdown record.
It’s the biggest comeback for the Threshers in recent years, possibly among the biggest in school history.
"We just weren’t playing our game in the first half," Esau said. "We weren’t in it mentally. We were a little nervous. We came out and realized that it’s nothing special. We’re in a game, just another game. That’s all it really came down to."
Last year, Bethel led 24-7 going into the fourth quarter, but Southwestern outscored the Threshers 21-0.
"This was a big game coming into it," Esau said. "Two undefeated teams in conference. We had yet to beat them. It was just good to get a win, a really good team win."
"We didn’t do much different," Terry Harrison said. "They are a very good team on defense. When you play us over the course of a game, it’s hard. It’s easy for a defense to play us early, but over the course of a game, we wear people down a little bit. It’s a very physical style of play. It overtook them."
Mason Murray rushed for 77 yards on 11 carries with a touchdown for Bethel. Murray also caught three passes for 32 yards. Scurry finished with 60 yards on 12 carries.
Josh Seabolt finished with 16 total tackles. Dominic Brown had 10 tackles.
Southwestern, 4-1 overall and in the KCAC, was led by Brag Cagle, who hit 13 of 22 passes for 241 yards and two touchdowns. Cagle also rushed for a touchdown. Keyshawn Jones had five catches for 144 yards and two touchdown. Keyshawn Wyatt rushed for 85 yards on 25 carries with two touchdowns.
Bethel stopped Southwestern on the Moundbuilders’ first two possessions, but the Moundbuilders scored on the third — a three-yard Cagle run. A short punt allowed Southwestern to go 34 yards in three plays, scoring on a 20-yard Wyatt run.
Bethel finally got a drive that got into Southwestern territory, stalling out at the 14 due to a Thresher penalty. Logan DeMond nailed a 31-yard field goal.
A Southwestern drive was aided by a pass interference call and a roughing the passer call. The second penalty wiped out an interception. Cagle hit Jones for a 32-yard pass.
Bethel finally finished a drive with eight seconds left in the half when Esau hit Camryn Harrison for a 10-yard touchdown pass. A late hit call against Southwestern allowed Bethel to score the two-point conversion on a pass from Esau to Brayden Francis.
Bethel fumbled on the first play of the second half at the Thresher 48. A Southwestern fumble in the red zone set up a 14-yard run for Murray.
Bethel got the ball back on a Trey Palmer interception, but the Threshers failed to capitalize. A 51-yard Jones punt return put the ball at the BC 5. The Moundbuilders were stopped on downs on a Ryan Clark sack. On the following play, Esau hit Francis for a 91-yard touchdown. The play was four yards off the record for the longest Bethel scoring pass play. Bethel missed the PAT kick, but an offside penalty gave Bethel an extra chance.
Cagle put Southwestern back in the lead on a 70-yard pass to Jones. Bethel replied with a drive that ended on a 15-yard Amondr’e Schumpert-Street run. The PAT kick was missed.
On fourth and 9 near midfield, Cagle hit a 36-yard pass to Jones to give the Moundbuilders the ball at the eight. Wyatt scored on a one-yard run.
Bethel’s final drive covered 75 yards in 15 plays, taking 4:21.
Southwestern couldn’t field the kickoff cleanly, killing the clock.
Bethel is 7-0, 6-0 in KCAC play. Bethel plays at 2-4 Tabor at 2 p.m. Saturday in Hillsboro. Tabor had a bye week, but fell to Avila 59-0 Oct. 31.
"We haven’t beaten them since I’ve been here," Terry Harrison said. "We’re taking them very seriously. Our community takes great pride in that match-up with Tabor. They’re going to get our best shot."