The Bethel University Wildcat game at Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida Saturday was the NAIA National Football Game of the Week, and it lived up to that status as the Wildcats remained undefeated with a 40-35 win over the Fire.
No. 17 Bethel moved to 4-0 ,while No. 18 Southeastern fell to 2-2. The victory evened the series between the two at 1-1 as the Wildcats avenged a 62-13 loss in Lakeland last season.
After holding Southeastern on their first possession, the Wildcats marched 74 yards in 13 plays and took a 6-0 lead on a one-yard run by Anthony Hughes. The Dalton McCann point after made it 7-0 at the 7:47 mark. The Wildcats converted on four of four third down conversions in the drive.
Southeastern answered with an 11-play 72- yard drive to tie the game. Quarterback Ryder Litten scored on a four-yard run with 2:33 left in the quarter to make it 7-7.
Bethel took the lead back at the 12:16 mark of the second stanza on a 19-yard touchdown third down pass from Sam Castronova to Devante Jimenez. The pass capped off a 12-play, 75-yard drive. McCann’s point after made it 14-7.
With Southeastern marching, Bethel’s Jaylon Dorsey recovered a Fire fumble at the Cat 42-yard line. Bethel took advantage and moved the ball down the field to take a 17-7 lead as the clock expired on a 30-yard field goal by McCann. The big play of the drive was a 30-yard pass completion from Castronova to Davius Prather.
Bethel had a 254-128 advantage in total yards for the half.
The Wildcats took a 23 -7 lead on a five-play, 51-yard drive with 10:11 left in the third. Prather scored on a five-yard jet sweep for the score. The McCann kick made it 24-7. The big play in the drive was a Castronova 41-yard run.
Southeastern cut into Bethel’s margin on a five-yard scamper by Bryan Bell. Bell’s run at the 8:42 mark made it 24-14.
The Wildcat offense again took charge as a 68-yard run right down the middle of the field by De’Ontay Tate, which set up a Taye Davis touchdown run inside the Fire five-yard line to make it 31-14 at the 3:34 mark of the third quarter.
The Fire came right back on a 31-yard touchdown pass from Litten to Charlie Cook with 2:11 left in the quarter to make it 31-21. The third quarter ended with Southeastern at the Bethel goal line down ten.
Three seconds into the final quarter the Fire scored on a one-yard run by Litten to make it 31-28.
SEU took their first lead when Phillip Smith scooped up a Castronova fumble and ran it in from 34 yards out to give the Fire a 35-31 lead with 13:28 left in the game.
Castronova shook that off in a hurry as the Cats rallied with a ten play drive capped off by a 15-yard run by the Bethel quarterback to give Bethel a 37-35 lead. After a penalty on Bethel after the score, McCann could not convert the point after, and Bethel’s lead stayed at two with 8:46 left.