Sat, Oct. 6, 2012
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LEAVENWORTH—St. Mary found a perfect compliment for Mike Keese in the past two weeks and the result provided the Spires with back-to-back wins after suffering four losses to open the season.
The compliment is a much improved ground game and Saturday afternoon, it augmented the Spire attack as they handed Bethany a 34-20 KCAC setback.
As a result, St. Mary jumped over the Swedes in the conference standings, improving to 2-3, 2-4 overall while Bethany dropped to 1-3, 2-4 overall.
Keese, the NAIA's top passer, did throw for 265 yards, completing 18 of 31 tosses also good for a quartet of touchdowns, but 154 yards on the ground helped St. Mary maintain possession when the Swedes were needing to come up with stops.
"We knew they were capable of running the football," said Jamie Cruce, Bethany's coach. "We've had some problems stopping the run in the last two weeks."
As it turned out, Bethany's Darby House and Zack Waggoner combined for 291 passing yards, but St.Mary was able to contain Tevis Linnebur, the top rusher in the conference, holding him to 74 yards on 21 tries. Including losses, the Swedes finished with only 48 net rushing yards.
In the meantime, Evan Hearn bulled his way to 81 yards, mainly exploiting the middle of the Swede defense including a five yard run on a fake punt to keep St. Mary's second touchdown drive alive.
"Sterling came out and dropped nine (in pass coverage) on us," said Lance Hinson, Spire headman. "They said ‘we're not going to let Mike Keese throw for 400 and you're going to have to run the ball to beat us'.
"We have made a concerted effort to establish a run game to compliment Mike,"
That led to a 419 to 339 Spire advantage in total offense for the game.
Still, it was the Swedes who drew first blood when Angel Martinez recovered a St. Mary fumble at the Bethany 35. It took seven plays to cover the 65 yards to pay dirt and House got the final yard on a sneak with 10:07 on the clock. In the drive House had passes of 17 yards to James Johnson and 31 to Brandon Martino.
Martino would enjoy a career day as the Junction City senior caught 11 passes for 129 yards and a score.
Keese got his team even when he hit Ronnie Cooper on a bubble screen and Cooper went 51 yards for the score with 8:09 left in the first quarter.
Bethany had a chance to regain the lead but Kevin Retchless was wide right on a 20 yard field goal late in the first quarter after the Swedes had driven 70 yards to the Spire 3.
Next it was Keese 52 yards to a wide open Jerrell Young and a lead St. Mary would not relinquish.
Linnebur coughed up the ball on Bethany's second play after that score and St. Mary was in business again at the Swede 31. It took five plays before Keese found Cooper again, this time for 18 yards and a 21-7 lead, 4:31 showing before half.
The Swede pulled within eight on Linnebur's one yard plunge with 34.8 seconds left in the half, but Retchless was again wide right on his kick, keeping the Spires up eight at the break.
Keese put up another touchdown pass in the third period and Hearn blasted over from three yards out around a 74 yard drive for Bethany that culminated in a four yard House to Martino pass.
Waggoner got his chance late in the third period as House was shaken up and took the Swedes to the Spire 30, but his fourth down pass to Martino was high and Bethany turned the ball over on downs with 11:49 left in the game.
Tayler Stull picked off a halfback pass moments later, but the Spires simply teed off from that point and went after House after he returned, forcing Bethany to turn the ball over on downs their last two possessions.
St. Mary's blitz package proved very effective in the final period and Cruce credited Hinson with a good coaching move.
"That was smart," he said. "I'd try to bring pressure with the young offensive line as well. For most of the day, our guys protected well, but there were some key downs that we didn't block well in pass protections."
The Swedes will host Tabor next Saturday for their annual homecoming game.