Cobbers push Bethel to limit but lose a heartbreaker
The No. 16-ranked Royals had their hands full with Concordia but held off a late Cobber rally for the victory
MOORHEAD — Concordia quarterback Tanner DuBois looked beat and disappointed. His Cobbers had just lost a 21-16 heartbreaker to No. 16-ranked Bethel. Moments earlier, he rallied his offensive teammates on a 58-yard drive to the Royals' 10-yard line with a chance to go ahead in the final minute, only to throw an interception in the end zone.
But DuBois still managed a resigned smile. The Cobbers acquitted themselves well just two weeks after another ranked team had run them off their own field, on homecoming, no less.
"It's football," DuBois said with a shrug. "You can love it and you can hate it sometimes. I'm proud to be on this team. We've got a bunch of fighters."
The Cobbers fought hammer and tongs with the 5-1 Royals only to see a defensive effort that included a goal-line stand and two turnovers go for naught because of bad penalties, a few big plays by Bethel and the creativity under pressure of Royals' quarterback Jaran Roste.
A first-quarter interception by DuBois set up the Royals near midfield and Roste hit Aaron Ellingson for a 21-yard touchdown seven plays later.
The Cobbers countered with a gritty, 15-play, 70-yard drive and Ben Hoggarth's 1-yard TD run to make it 7-6 Bethel. But mistakes killed the Cobbers on Bethel's next drive. Two pass interference penalties, one on a third-down incompletion, kept the drive alive, and after Roste threw incomplete on a third-and-10 play, the Cobbers were hit with a roughing the passer penalty and Bethel had a fresh set of downs at the Concordia 13-yard line. Roste ran one yard for the score three plays later.
Damien Silus' 42-yard field goal just before the half made it 14-9, but Bethel upped the lead to 21-9 on the first possession of the second half, aided by another Concordia pass interference penalty, Roste's 46-yard completion to Joey Kidder and a 15-yard pass to Ellingson to the Cobbers 7-yard line. Bryce Kunkel scored from 5 yards out two plays later.
Time and again, the Cobbers' defense was in Roste's face and had him on the run, but the rugged 6-foot-4, 220-pound junior from Alexandria, Minn., not only rebuffed the tackles, he kept his feet long enough to run or sling freelance passes upfield for positive yards. Despite having Roste in their grasp several times, the Cobbers had no sacks.
"I like being able to extend plays, use my legs," said Roste, who hit 21 of 40 passes for 296 yards and the touchdown and ran for 41 yards and a score. "I would consider myself a dual threat quarterback. Some people say I'm more of a runner, but just extending those plays and our wide receivers doing a great job of finding openings, finding spaces in the defense for me to push the ball down the field or run it myself."
Neither team mounted much of a scoring threat after Bethel's TD early in the half but the Cobbers and their faithful were energized by linebacker Noah Jensen's huge play with about nine minutes left. Jensen forced a Roste fumble at the Cobber 42 yard line, scooped it up and chugged 58 yards for a score that put Concordia within five.
"We talked all week about buying in," said Jensen, who was in on 11 tackles and hurried Roste three times. "Everybody doing their job, everybody exceeding expectations and celebrating with each other. Picking each other up and making the brotherhood tighter."
Jensen's play certainly did that. The defense stopped Bethel on fourth down at the Concordia 32 and the rejuvenated Cobbers moved efficiently down the field, with DuBois connecting on 5 of 7 throws for 55 yards to move the ball to the Bethel 10-yard line with 56 seconds left. But on the next play, DuBois forced a ball into the end zone and it found the hands of Bethel's Nate Farm, who hit the deck for a touchback.
The Cobbers used solid defense and timeouts to force a Royals punt, but they needed to go 73 yards in 32 seconds with no timeouts. A pass-and-lateral play with eight seconds left was stopped at the Bethel 38 as time expired.
"Today, we probably played our best game as a team, offense, defense and special teams," said DuBois, who hit 22 of 34 passes for 177 yards. "Everybody was flying around. We knew Bethel was a good, physical team, so all week we were preaching we've got to meet their physicality or even be more physical if we want to have a chance of winning. The boys came out and played their butts off."
No loss feels great, but there weren't many heads hanging after the tough scrum with the Royals, especially since the last time the Cobbers left their home field the scoreboard read 49-0 in favor of St. John's.
"It was, yeah, that's a kick in the face, especially on homecoming in front of a big crowd," DuBois said. "It just didn't feel good, it didn't sit well with anybody. We got back to work."
In that sense, the Bethel L was, in a way, a Cobbers W.
"I just had a great time today," Jensen said. "I'm sure everybody else did, too."
Bethel 21, Concordia 16
Bethel 7 7 7 0 — 21
Conc. 0 9 0 7 — 16
B: Ellingson 21 pass from Roste (Cifuentes kick)
C: Hoggarth 1 run (pass failed)
B: Roste 1 run (Cifuentes kick)
C: Silus 42 FG
B: Kunkel 5 run (Cifuentes kick)
C: Jensen 58 fumble return (Silus kick)