Photo by Luke Zayas/True To The Cru
Previewing this week’s playoff contest presented by The Best of Belton
No. 13 Bethel
Head Coach: Steve Johnson
Located: Arden Hills, Minnesota
Conference: Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC)
Overall Record: 10-2
Conference Record: 7-1
How they got here: Bethel reached the postseason via a Pool C (at-large) bid, and narrowly defeated Wheaton, 34-32, in the first round. The Royals then followed that by upsetting Linfield, 30-13 in the second round, as the defense held Linfield scoreless in the second half.
Postseason Playoff Streak: 2 (2021-2022)
No. 3 UMHB
Head coach: Larry Harmon
Located: Belton, Texas
Conference: American Southwest (ASC)
Overall Record: 11-1
ASC record: 8-0
How they got here: UMHB’s defense shutout Huntingdon 54-0 in the first round, and came up with a 24-17 win at Trinity (TX) in round two, as Kyle King broke the program record for passing touchdowns in a season.
Postseason playoff streak: 19 (2004-2022)
Follow the action
Date/Time: December 3, 12 p.m. CT
Location: Crusader Stadium, Belton, Texas
Listen: 93.9 FM/1330 AM
This is the first time that UMHB will face Bethel in program history. A look through the archives reveals that this is not a new situation for the Cru, who faced both Birmingham-Southern and North Central for the first time in last year’s playoffs.
Similarities shared between the two quarterbacks
One of the biggest matchups to watch will be in the play of both quarterbacks; UMHB’s Kyle King and Bethel’s Jaran Roste. Each ranks in the top 20 nationally in passing efficiency, King at No. 8 and Roste and No. 17. The similarities between the two carry over to the level of experience as well, with King in his fifth-year and Roste in his sixth-year. Additionally, neither began his career at the school he is currently at now. King played the 2018 season at Howard Payne before transferring to UMHB, and Roste opened his collegiate career by redshirting at Minnesota in 2017. And to add one more shared trait, King and Roste are two of the 15 semifinalists for the Gagliardi Trophy, D-III football’s equivalent of the Heisman Trophy, which recognizes excellence on the field, in the classroom and in the community.
UMHB and Bethel each have a pair of standout receivers who can easily fill up the stat sheet and change the momentum with a few key receptions.
For the Crusaders, Brandon Jordan and KJ Miller lead the way, though UMHB’s receiving corps has additional key contributors in Jamaal Hamilton, tight end Will McClintock, and others. Jordan, who recently set the program record for career receiving touchdowns with 30, has a team-high 12 touchdowns entering this matchup. Miller leads the team with 62 receptions, for 889 yards, also a team-best.
Bethel is led by Joey Kidder and Micah Niewald, who are both seeking to break the 1000-yard receiving mark on Saturday. Niewald has 957 yards on 73 receptions this season and Kidder enters the contest with 941 yards on 54 catches, along with 11 touchdowns, a team-high.
Containing these receivers will certainly be a primary objective for both defenses.
Keeping the opponent outside the end zone
Throughout this postseason, we have witnessed both defenses step up at critical points, and at times, shutout the opposition for multiple quarters at a time. UMHB came up with a complete game shutout in the 54-0 first round win over Huntingdon, as the Crusaders forced three turnovers. They carried that into the second-round, shutting out Trinity in the first half, before the Tigers put 17 on the board over the course of the final two quarters.
Bethel similarly came up with a two-quarter shutout last Saturday, but in the reverse order. The Royals led 17-13 at halftime, but took Linfield’s offense out of the game in the second half, holding the Wildcats scoreless as Bethel emerged with a 30-13 win.
Sticking with the program
Both head coaches in this matchup have been on staff at their respective schools for at least two decades at this point. Bethel head coach Steve Johnson, who played for the Royals from 1970-1974, returned to lead the program in 1989. He is now in his 32nd season at the helm of Bethel’s program, and has put together 11 straight winning seasons.
Harmon, though a first-year head coach, previously served as UMHB’s defensive coordinator for the previous 20 seasons, helping build the program from a little-known team just a handful of years old into a D-III powerhouse.
The majority of each program’s roster is made up of in-state talent, though both teams have seen contributions from out-of-state players as well.
Bethel’s leading rusher, Bryce Kunkle, is from Yuba City, California, and defensive standout Colin Curtis, who has played in all 12 games, calls Woodville, Wisconsin home. Punter/receiver Will Eliason is from Ann Arbor, Michigan. In total, Bethel has players from Arizona, Washington, Wisconsin, Michigan, Texas, California, Alabama,Iowa, Colorado, Georgia, Tennessee and South Dakota on the roster.
UMHB has less states represented on its varsity roster, but Jordan hails from Santa Barbara, California, and receivers Jalen Shepard and Jerry Day are both Louisiana natives. Receiver Jawon Richards is from Chicago, Illinois, and tight end RJ Haberer represents the state of Kansas.
Penalties are far and few between for the Royals
Bethel is one of the nation’s best when it comes to limiting penalties, ranking third in D-III in penalties per game, at 3.25. Through the first two rounds, the Royals have been called for a penalty just twice, both coming against Wheaton. It is a credit to a disciplined approach from Johnson and his coaching staff.
Putting the ball back in the hands of the offense
UMHB’s defense has been exceptional when it comes to forcing turnovers, especially fumbles. The Crusaders are tied for seventh in the nation in fumble recoveries, with 14 this season, and have recovered at least one fumble in each of the last three contests. Trey Belyeu-Witcher and Durand Hill each have two recoveries apiece, a team-high. And Johnny Smith-Rider has forced a team-best four fumbles.
For a look at Larry Harmon’s Monday press conference:
UMHB Two Deep Depth Chart (Per the UMHB Athletics Department)
*-Team Captain, L-Varsity Letter, SQ- Previously on varsity roster in past season(s) but has seen no playing time, TR- Transfer
Quarterback: Kyle King (Sr.-2L), Jackson Tingler (Jr.-1L),
Running Back: Aphonso Thomas (Sr. 1L), Kenneth Cormier Jr. (Jr.-2L)
Wide Receiver: Jerry Day Jr. (So.-1L), Jamaal Hamilton (Sr.-1L)
Wide Receiver: KJ Miller (Sr.-4L), Jerry Cephus (So,-JV)
Wide Receiver: Brandon Jordan (Sr.-2L), Jawon Richards (Jr.-TR)
Tight End: Connor Mullins (Jr.-2L), Will McClintock (So.-TR)
Left Tackle: Reuel Tandoh (Jr.-2L), Kyle Wente (So.-1L)
Left Guard: Jesse Hoke (Jr.-2L), Wyatt Crawford (Jr.-2L)
Center: Jeffery Sims Jr. (Sr.-4L), Jacob Dailey (So.-2L)
Right Guard: Matt Sanders (Sr.-3L), John Schnautz (So.-JV)
Right Tackle: Ethan Ruckman (Jr.-2L), John Kazmierski (Sr.-3L)
Left Defensive End: Trey Belyeu-Witcher (So.-1L), Dorian Pittman (Fr.-HS)
Left Defensive Tackle: Pete Smith (Sr.-3L), Preston Johnson (So.-JV)
Right Defensive Tackle: Tristan Green (So.-1L), Mason Cavness (So.-JV)
Right Defensive End: Sante Parker Jr. (Sr.-3L), Kobe Giles, (Jr.-2L)
Weakside Linebacker: Johnny Smith-Rider (So.-1L), Caden Steubing (Jr.-JV)
Middle Linebacker: Durand Hill (So.-1L), La’Damian Bailey (So,-JV)
Strongside Linebacker: Omari Frazier (Jr.-2L), Noel Wright (Jr.-TR)
Cru (Flex Safety): Tommy Bowden (Sr.-3L), Diarva Brown (Sr.-TR)
Free Safety: Dorian Williams (Jr.-TR), Cameron Mitton (Fr.-HS)
Cornerback: Titus Dunk (Sr.-3L), Trashawn Adams (So.-1L)
Cornerback: Chaka Watson (Jr.-2L), Tavion Page (Sr.-3L)
Kicker: Anthony Avila (Sr.-3L), Jack Bruner (Fr.-HS)
Punter: Kyle King (Sr.-2L), Jack Bruner (Fr.-HS)
Punt Returner: KJ Miller (Sr.-4L), Jamaal Hamilton (Sr.-1L)
Kick Returner: KJ Miller (Sr.-4L), Jamaal Hamilton (Sr.-1L)
Long/Short Snapper: Adam Strawn (Jr.-1L), Will McClintock (So.-TR)
Holder: Tommy Bowden (Sr.-3L)
Bethel two-deep depth chart: Bethel (Courtesy of the Bethel Athletics Department)
HB: Ethan Sailer (SO), Fisher Marberg (JR)
LT: Josh Helling (JR), Simon Broersma (SO)
LG: Travis Sinclair (SR), Isaac Lange (SO)
C: Evan Ginter (JR), Stephen Powell (JR)
RG: Jason Miller (SR), Isaiah Ward (FR)
RT: Michael Williams (SR), Ben Westling (FR)
WR: Micah Niewald (SO), Gabe Ante (SO)
WR: Joey Kidder (SO), Jackson Kirchoff (FR)
WR: Aaron Ellingson (SO), Nic Jones (SR)
RB: Bryce Kunkle (SR), David Geebli (FR)
QB: Jaran Roste (SR), George Bolt (JR)
R: Colin Curtis (SR), Caden Dewall (SO)
N: Reese Pantilla (SO), Ethan Herron (JR)
T: Aidan Thomas (JR), Michael Judd (SR)
R: David Brandt (SR), Colin Heckman (SO)
LB: Jacob Holmen (SO), Kolin Baier (SO)
LB: Thomas Wurdemann (JR), Taylor Glynn (FR)
Q: Isaac Call (SO), Judson Williams (SR)
CB: Devin Williams (FR), Danny Kulus (JR)
SS: Matthew Feldick (SR), Eric Fouquette (SO)
FS: Nate Farm (SO), Drew Libbon (JR)
CB: Anthony Hockett (SR), Cort Doyle (SO)
P: Will Eliason (SO), Dane Schumacher (SR)
KO: David Erickson (FR), Hugo Cifuentes (SO)
PAT: Hugo Cifuentes (SO), David Erickson (FR)
H: George Bolt (JR), Aaron Ellingson (SO)
PR: Nic Jones (SR), Devin Williams (FR)
KR: Nic Jones (SR), Aaron Ellingson (SO)