After opening the game with a 14-0 lead over UW-Oshkosh, Bethel allowed 37 unanswered points to fall in the second round of the NCAA Division III playoffs 37-14. Saturday's loss gives the Royals an exit from their seventh NCAA postseason appearance since the year 2000 and evens its all-time playoff record to 7-7. Additionally, its just Bethel's second loss to an undefeated team this season — considering BU faced seven opponents that were unbeaten at the time of play.
The Royals (9-3) were on their way to a potential 21-0 lead before the half, however, an ill-timed interception by Ryan Stefaniak helped the Titans (12-0) score seven, which changed the contest's momentum from that time forward.
"If I had to pick one moment where the shift occurred, Stefaniak's pick at the end of the second half had to be it," admitted coach Steve Johnson.
The interception and ensuing touchdown cut Bethel's lead to 14-7, but UW-Oshkosh let it be the juice it needed moving forward in the final 30 minutes. Bethel, who had allowed just 10 points in the third quarter all year, permitted the Titans to score three touchdowns—including two 25-yard plus passes from Nata Wara to Caleb Voss.
Bethel opened the game's scoring with a 55-yard strike to Mitch Hallstrom on the Royal's second drive of the competition. Hallstrom's catch and run completed a 7-play, 99-yard drive that spanned 3:29. Defense dominated for both sides until the Royals put together a 10-play, 80-yard scoring drive to start the second quarter. Hallstrom found the end zone for the second time of the game, and just the third time this season, when Erik Peterson dropped the pigskin in his bread basket on a 2-yard score — which gave Bethel the 14-0 lead.
"We were trying to extend the field because we knew that Oshkosh was going to stack the box," noted Hallstrom. "We had it working well, but failed to keep the connections in tact throughout the second half."
UW-Oshkosh's interception led to a Cole Myhra running touchdown — which was one of three scores for the Titan tailback. Myhra and UW-O then scored on the first three drives of the third quarter to quickly deflate Bethel's positive momentum. The Titans added a passing touchdown in the fourth quarter and a safety, to cap the game's scoring at 37-14.
Halftime adjustment was the word of the game, as BU couldn't close out the magnificent defensive effort. Holding the Titans — a team that averaged 504 yards per game — to only 118 yards in the first half quickly dissipated as UW-Oshkosh finished with 462 total yards.
Mitch Hallstrom finished his junior campaign with nine catches for 133 yards and two touchdowns Saturday. The wide out finished with 78 receptions — just three shy of the all-time record of 81.
Hallstrom wasn't the only one to make a dent in the Bethel record books. Erik Peterson's 21-of-32 passing day helped the quarterback finish with the highest single season completion percentage (66.7)—which break's quarterback coach Scott Kirchoff's previous record (62.5). The sophomore quarterback also already ranks in the Top 10 passers in Bethel history. Peterson ended Saturday with 272 yards passing and two TD's, along with three interceptions.
Peterson connected with Hans Duininck four times for 87 yards, which included three tough catches in the middle of the field on third-and-long situations.
David Morgan led the Royals defensively, recording 12 tackles—including eight solo—and two interceptions. Junior linebacker Seth Mathis also had 10 tackles, while Erik Smith and Brett Skoog had nine and seven, respectively.
Perhaps the most uncommon fact of Saturday's game, came from freshman Philip Peterson's foot. Peterson recorded eight punts in which the Titans returned for 0 yards.
Bethel's season ends with a 9-3 record overall, a tie for second place in the MIAC football standings, and a seat at the table with the final 16 teams in the Division III playoffs. In the last three postseason attempts, Bethel has gone to the final four twice and now the final 16 with a 7-3 playoff record along the way.