Bethany had every excuse to fall flat in Saturday’s football season opener at Southwestern Assemblies of God.
Instead, the No. 24-ranked Swedes became the only team out of 10 in the KCAC to come away from its season opener with a victory, beating the Lions 13-12 on a 33-yard touchdown pass from Darby House to D’Andre Thompson with 37 seconds left.
“I thought we were exceptionally disciplined for our first game,” Bethany coach Jamie Cruce said. “Obviously we turned the ball over four times, but I was proud of how we traveled and how we performed in crucial situations.”
It was the Swedes’ first game without senior running back Junior Allen, a two-time All-American and the reigning KCAC offensive player of the year. Allen left the team before the season for personal reasons.
Bethany struggled offensively without him, putting up 238 yards of offense. House completed 16 of 31 passes for 163 yards and three interceptions. Allen’s replacement, Tevis Linnebur, rushed 21 times for 59 yards.
“They came out in a stack defense, which changed some things for us offensively,” Cruce said. “It took a little out of our run game, but I was still happy with how Tevis ran the ball. You don’t replace a player of Junior’s caliber just like that. We don’t have a guy that can take the ball 80 or 90 yards and score anymore. We don’t have a huge margin of error.”
Bethany’s defense picked up the slack — they held the Lions to 260 yards of offense and four field goals. They also stopped Southwestern twice from the Swedes’ 1-yard line. Defensive end Steven Williams (6-foot-1, 220 pounds) was named KCAC defensive player of the week after posting eight tackles — including 3.5 tackles for loss, one sack and one pass breakup.
“(Southwest) has a pretty mobile quarterback that could’ve hurt us,” Cruce said. “But Steven got after him pretty good.”
The Spires lost to Nebraska Wesleyan 25-20 and Friends lost to Evangel 27-14, but were within six in the fourth quarter.
Keese was 30 of 54 for 377 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in the opener. He threw for 3,638 yards and 21 touchdowns last season.
“We opened up with a really long drive, like 80 yards and it took up 7 1/2 minutes,” Keese said. “But after that, we had way too many three-and-outs. We need to be more consistent against Friends. I’ve watched some film on them already and they’re really big and really fast.”