It’s been a weird football season for the Bethel Royals.
The Bethel football program is usually a contender every year. They’re usually playing relevant football in late October and early November, when the MIAC title is on the line. Not this year.
The Royals host No. 4-ranked St. Thomas this year having lost both of their early non-conference games. They’re 3-2 in the MIAC, with losses to St. John’s and Concordia-Moorhead. With three weeks left in the regular season, Bethel is eliminated from postseason contention. We’ll find out Saturday if they’re up for playing the role of spoiler.
That said, don’t tell St. Thomas coach Glenn Caruso Saturday’s game in Arden Hills isn’t a big deal. For the Tommies, it’s their next biggest game of the year. It’s the last big test of the regular season for St. Thomas. The Tommies’ final two weeks are at Gustavus and home against St. Olaf, both match-ups where they will he heavily favored.
For Caruso and the Tommies, beating Bethel is all that matters right now.
“It’s a bit of a mystery. They’re very stalwart in everything they do. It must be a shot to the system where you’re not vying for a conference championship,” Caruso said of Bethel. “They’re still terrifyingly explosive and they’re just a really, really good football team.”
St. Thomas improved to 7-0 on the season, 5-0 in MIAC play, on Saturday with a 71-20 win over Hamline. The Tommies piled up 531 yards of total offense and nearly doubled the Pipers in first downs. St. Thomas scored 29 second quarter points to take a 43-20 lead at the half and shut out Hamline in the second half.
The Tommies ran for 314 yards and six touchdowns on the day, led by sophomore Tucker Trettel. He had 18 carries for 189 yards and three touchdowns. That’s an average of 10.5 yards per carry. Josh Parks also had 11 carries for 54 yards and a touchdown. Two of Trettel’s three scores came on each of St. Thomas’s first two possessions.
He’s leading the Tommies in rushing with Jordan Roberts out for an extended time with a leg injury.
“Tucker isn’t a surprise. He’s very capable to be an every down back,” Caruso said. “I’ve said it before that he may not have been our top guy, but he’s not a back-up. His vision is really good, and can find those small creases to gain extra yards.”
The Tommies are also boosted by one of the better defenses in the nation. They allowed 119 total yards Saturday and limited Hamline to 13 first downs and a 1-for-14 rate on third downs.
With St. Thomas up 29-20, the defense came up with a big score on Chris Fondakowski’s interception and 49-yeard return for a touchdown to give the Tommies a 36-20 lead in the second quarter. St. Thomas didn’t allow a point the rest of the game. The Tommies were led defensively by Jesse Addo’s six tackles, while Dylan Andrew and Steve Harrell added five tackles each.
St. Thomas recorded eight sacks from six different players Saturday. That brings the season total to 28 on the season and 17 in MIAC play.
Despite the gaudy numbers in St. Thomas’s favor and its 7-0 start, Caruso said there is still plenty of areas to improve.
“We’re still a team that is very much in the process of growing. The identities are clear, but every week gives us something new to work on,” Caruso said.
The Tommies travel to Arden Hills Saturday to face a Bethel squad that has much more talent than its 3-4 record would indicate. The Royals are actually outscoring opponents on average, 37-29. They’re averaging 463 yards of total offense per game and rushing for nearly 190 yards per contest. The rushing attack is led by Gunnar Bloom’s 50 yards per game and seven touchdowns. Bridgeport Tusler is actually their leading rusher, but has missed the last few weeks with injuries and his status for Saturday isn’t known.
The Royals have also split duties at quarterback with Jake Marsh and Andrew Dzurik. They’re both throwing for more than 200 yards per game on the season and have a combined 10 touchdowns. Bryce Marquardt is one of their more dangerous weapons in the passing game, averaging 122 yards per contest with seven touchdowns.
“The two quarterbacks are definitely different players. But if you’re not disciplined, they can make you look silly really, really quickly,” Caruso said.
Bethel’s defense is allowing almost 400 yards per game, with 133 coming on the ground. It’s a group led by Dawson Brown’s 67 tackles, two interceptions and 3.5 sacks. Andrew Ragsdale has 52 tackles on the year and 2.5 sacks, and Josh Dahlki adds 51 tackles and three sacks.
St. Thomas beat Bethel 45-14 last year, which snapped a two-game losing streak against the Royals. A victory puts the Tommies in firm control of the MIAC race with two games left. The league champion earns the automatic bid to the NCAA Playoffs.
Tune into WCCO Radio 830 AM at about 1 p.m. Saturday as Dave Lee will have the play-by-play and Eric Nelson will have color commentary along with Fritz Waldvogel from the sidelines.