The Bethel College football team made strides last week against Bethany last week, but couldn’t finish the deal, falling 31-28 on a late field goal.

The Threshers will face one of its toughest challenges to date when they host 2-0 Avila at 7 p.m. Saturday at Joe W. Goering Field.

The Eagles are making their debut in the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference this season after several years in the Heart of America Athletic Conference.

Avila opened the season with a 38-34 win over then 17th-ranked Sterling, the defending co-champion. Last week, Avila downed McPherson 54-31.

Bethel opened the season with a 42-12 loss to Ottawa in the first week of the season. Last week, Bethel had an early two-touchdown lead over Bethany, but missed chances to put the game away.

“We had the best week of practice of any team that I’ve been a part of,” Bethel coach Terry Harrison said. “It wasn’t perfect, but I’m seeing improvement in every phase of the game and I’m encouraged by that.”

Avila is led by quarterback John Jacobs III, who has hit 30 of 49 passes for 503 yards and six touchdowns with no interceptions. He also leads the team in rushing with 210 yards on 24 carries with six touchdowns. Early in the season, Jacobs III is second in the NAIA in touchdown scoring per game and third in total scoring per game.

Jakob Jordan has hit 12 of 20 passes for 224 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.

Theo Berry leads the team in receiving with 16 catches for 356 yards and two touchdowns. Naeem Moore has six catches for 107 yards and a touchdown.

Raymond Toledo has three interceptions on defense. Jamed Thomas has 22 total tackles, followed by Steven Ford with 14 and Ryon Holmes with 12.

“They beat Sterling in week one and they beat Mac last week, so they are a pretty good team,” Harrison said. “They have a good quarterback who can throw the ball and run the ball. They play pretty good defense. They won’t do anything any different than what we’ve seen so far. They play the spread and like to throw the ball downfield.”

Bethel’s Zach Esau has hit 12 of 22 passes for 193 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. Esau also has 33 rushes for 115 yards and a touchdown. Braedon Starlin-Driver has 26 rushes for 186 yards and two touchdowns. Camryn Harrison has 21 rushes for 131 yards and a touchdown. Gary Jolivet has 16 rushes for 104 yards and a touchdown.

Tanner Galliart has four catches for 89 yards.

Jordan Bell has 21 total tackles and 1.5 sacks, followed by Joshua Seabolt with 19 total tackles and Keondre Churchwell with 13 total tackles.

Bethel is ranked 10th in the nation in the NAIA in rushing yards per game at 282.

The Bethel defense has given up just 200 rushing yards, but also has allowed 711 passing yards.

“Pass defense is more than just covering a receiver,” Harrison said. “It’s making a play on the ball. You either have to knock it down or picking it off. Most of the teams in this conference are pass happy, so you are going to give up a pass now and then, but you also have to make a play on the ball, and our defensive backs are learning that.”

Turnovers were a factor in last week’s loss to Bethany. Bethel gave up four turnovers and only gained three. A pick six for the Threshers was called back for offsides. A Bethel turnover set up the winning score for the Swedes.

Positive areas for the Threshers are the team’s rushing attack and the quarterback protection.

Bethel has yet to give up a sack.

“The kids are still working hard and we’re trying to turn this thing around,” Harrison said. “I feel a lot of support from the players and the community and feel we’re going to turn this thing around sooner or later.”