Royals football falls in heartbreaker, but still earns NCAA playoff bid

The MIAC championship ended in heartbreak for the Royals, but their 8-2 record and stellar performances all year long cashed their ticket to the NCAA Division III football playoffs. 

By Caden Christiansen | Sports Editor

The Bethel Royals lost a hard-fought battle to the University of St. Johns 29-28 in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship Saturday. Almost 6,000 fans braved the nearly freezing temperatures and late third quarter snow at Royals Stadium as the top two MIAC football teams squared off with an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III football playoffs on the line. 

Photo by Hannah Hobus.

The Royals came out firing in the first quarter, forcing a fumble on the Johnnies’ first drive recovered by sophomore defensive lineman Ethan Herron. On the next play, senior quarterback Jaran Roste lofted a 48-yard touchdown pass to freshman receiver Joey Kidder to give the Royals an early 7-0 lead. 

The Royals held onto a lead until the final seconds as Roste completed 17 of 26 passes for 252 yards and three touchdown passes and Joey Kidder grabbed seven catches for 143 yards and a touchdown. The Royals added their sole touchdown in the second half blocking a Johnnies punt as junior linebacker David Brandt returned it for a touchdown. 

After giving up 14 points to the Johnnies’ offense in the third quarter and early fourth quarter, the Royals defense came up big on two late fourth quarter defensive stands, forcing two turnovers on downs. Trailing 28-22, the Johnnies’ offense received the ball with 1:59 left on the game clock and no timeouts left. After a 36-yard completion and 25-yard rush by Johnnies quarterback Chris Backes, the Johnnies found themselves on the Royals’ 10-yard line. 

Photo by Hannah Hobus.

On fourth and three and the final seconds ticking off the clock, Backes completed the game-tying touchdown to Johnnie receiver Alex Larson with just one second left on the clock. The Johnnies added the extra point to secure the 29-28 victory and the 2021 MIAC championship. 

The Royals finished an impressive regular season with an 8-2 overall record, and despite the heartbreaking loss were granted one of five at-large bids for the NCAA Division III football tournament. They begin their playoff run in Pella, Iowa Nov. 20 against eighth-ranked Central College at noon. 

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