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Bethel football upsets No. 9 St. Thomas, boosts playoff hopes in final regular season game

Well-rounded performance on Senior Day gives Royals a chance at NCAA Tournament

By Jared Martinson

Jumping up and down at a football game in 20-degree weather is a common occurrence, but Royal Stadium wasn’t going bonkers because of the frozen conditions.

The Bethel University football team (9-1, 7-1 MIAC) flew around on offense, defense and special teams en route to a victory over the University of St. Thomas (8-2, 6-2 MIAC) on Saturday. The win all but secures an NCAA playoff at-large berth for Bethel, and likely knocks the Tommies out of the postseason picture.

The Royals were paced by the running game early on. Their first drive culminated in a 41-yard scamper by running back Sam Gibas. The sophomore carried 18 times for 72 yards on the day.

After a quick three-and-out stop by Bethel’s defense, the offense was pinned down inside the 10-yard line for their second possession; enter quarterback Jaran Roste into the fray. He burst through the line untouched and found the end zone 93 yards later to put the Royals up 14-0 just seven minutes into the contest. Roste rushed for 129 yards and threw for 177 more in the air.

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Quarterback Jaran Roste turns on the jets during his 93-yard sprint into the end zone. The sophomore tallied 306 total yards on Saturday. | Photo by Katie Viesselman

“We wanted to establish [the running game] really quick, and we did that,” Roste said after the game. “Sam and I took advantage of some of those holes, and we ended up scoring two touchdowns which kind of made the difference in the game.”

The second and third quarters were stalemates; defense held tough on both sides throughout the middle frames. When Bethel would make a big play—such as cornerback Trey Anderson’s diving interception—UST would answer with a stiff defensive possession.

According to head coach Steve Johnson, the expectation defensively all week mirrored the gameplay. “We felt like we could shut them down,” he said. “We felt like we had to stop [UST running back Josh] Parks, and we did that. We’re playing so great on defense: fast, sharp and smart.”

When the fourth quarter began, the scent of upset began to waft into the stadium like the smoke from the concession stand grill. Right on time, Bethel defensive end Kyle Kilgore ripped into the Tommie backfield to block a punt and linebacker Trent Substad scooped the ball into paydirt.

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Cornerback Trey Anderson and his defensive company celebrate a big interception in the third quarter on Saturday. Bethel’s defense held St. Thomas to 4.4 yards per play for the game. | Photo by Katie Viesselman

The Royal lead was extended to 21-7, and despite a late touchdown pass that made the score 21-15, Bethel held onto the ball and kneeled into victory formation.

The win marks the first time Bethel has defeated St. Thomas since 2014. The Royals were outscored by the Tommies in their last three meetings by a total of 130-41.

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An emotional Steve Johnson addresses his team after the win over St. Thomas. Bethel is poised to make the NCAA playoffs for the first time since 2013. | Photo by Katie Viesselman

Coach Johnson echoes every week how proud he is of his team, but the postgame speech on Saturday was a little more teary-eyed than usual.

“We have a tremendous group of guys and leaders. I half-joke that when I grow up, I want to be like them, but it’s true,” Johnson said. “They care about each other, they love each other, and they hold each other accountable.”

Bethel awaits the NCAA Division 3 football selection program tomorrow afternoon, when they will learn their placement in the NCAA tournament that begins next week.

1 comment on “Bethel football upsets No. 9 St. Thomas, boosts playoff hopes in final regular season game

  1. Minnesota Gophers eat your heart out. Right in your locker room was your Big10 QB but you chose to go outside the state and snub Roste. How is that working for you Coach Fleck? Good for you Bethel…. you have a team leader the kid who set the Minnesota record for most combined touchdowns in one game plus over 5000 yards passing. Run Jaran Run.

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