NORTH NEWTON — The Ottawa University football team scored on its first four possessions, leading to a 42-12 win over Bethel College Saturday in the season opener for both teams.
Conner Kaegi hit 15 of 24 passes with one interception and two touchdowns for 227 yards. Kaegi also rushed for three scores. Darrion Dillard had eight catches for 157 yards and two touchdowns.
“We didn’t really know what to expect off the bat,” Kaegi said. “We had no film on them with new coaches. We ran through a lot of defenses. Once we saw what they were giving to us, we knew exactly what to take. We saw that we had deep routes open. Their safeties were down a lot. They were bringing a lot of edge pressure, mostly in the boundary. Our running game is strong. We have a good running back in James Reeder, but we couldn’t get anything going. We were able to get under center and get a little push in the run game.”
“We started off the game really well,” Ottawa coach Kent Kessinger said. “My only disappointment was we didn’t keep that momentum in the second half. We got a little bogged down on offense. Our defense picked it up in the second half. We did a really good job of turning it over on downs. We gave up a couple long drives that took a lot of time in the first half. We did a good job of swarming to the ball on defense in the second half. We need to do a better job of running the ball, and I think we did in the second half.”
The loss marred the debut of Bethel coach Terry Harrison.
“We’re really young at DB, and that junior college quarterback they have was able to go get it,” Harrison said. “… Coach (Paul) Kempf made some adjustments at halftime. The guys learned the difference between playing college football and high school football. We were able to make some plays.”
Bethel struggled in the special teams with a missed field goal, two missed PAT kicks and a partially blocked punt.
“I was surprised about that,” Harrison said. “There’s a little bit of a learning curve with as many young guys as we have. It will give us something to improve on.”
Despite the loss, Harrison was upbeat with his team after the game.
“What’s to yell about,” Harrison said. “I’ve got things I’ve got to fix. They’ve got things they’ve got to fix. Not one of these kids wanted to lose by 30. They’re embarrassed. I’m embarrassed. We just don’t believe in tearing kids down. Nothing that happened tonight was caused by lack of desire.”
Bethel was led by Zach Esau with 62 yards rushing and hitting six of 12 passes with an interception and a score for 93 yards.
Kaegi threw a touchdown pass on the Braves’ first drive and ran in the next two. Dylan Foos also ran in a score.
On Bethel’s first possession, a Gary Jolivet touchdown run was called back for illegal motion. Three more motion penalties took the Threshers out of the red zone, where a 48-yard field goal attempt was well short.
“We actually did punch it in the end zone,” Harrison said. “With the system we run, communication has to be crisp. It’s a coaching issue that we will get fixed.”
Bethel also had a drive end on downs and on a punt. Bethel’s fourth drive ended with an interception, but Brandon Thorne intercepted the ball back for the Threshers’ first defensive stop.
The turnover led to a 10-yard touchdown run for Camryn Harrison. The PAT kick was wide right.
Bethel finally forced a punt with 1:18 left in the half, a 58-yarder. Bethel turned the ball over a play later on its own 29, a fumble recovered by Jalen Skar. Bethel made three defensive stops at the goalline, but on the third, Bethel was called for defensive holding. Kaegi finished the drive on a one-yard run.
Bethel replied with a 23-yard pass from Esau to Bronson Hill. The PAT kick was blocked. Kicker Brayden Francis was able to run down the runback to prevent a pair of Ottawa points. Ottawa came back with a nine-yard pass from Kaegi to Dillard.
Ottawa got in the red zone three times in the fourth quarter, missing two field goal attempts and running out the clock on the third.
Ottawa hosts Saint Mary Saturday, which upset KCAC defending co-champion Tabor 13-10.
“That’s going to be a good battle,” Kaegi said. “I haven’t been here long, but I heard from a few different people and our coach that Saint Mary’s going to be a tough one. We don’t really like each other, from what I understood. We’re going to go at it tomorrow.”
“It will be nice to see some film on an opponent to know what we’ll be seeing,” Harrison said. “Our kids are tough kids. We’re going to get better.”