NORTH NEWTON – To paraphrase Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain, reports of the death of Kansas Wesleyan’s football program are greatly exaggerated.
Led by the inspired play of quarterback Isaiah Randalle (JR/Sacramento, Calif.), wide receiver Paden Hazuga (JR/San Diego, Calif.) and the entire defense from start to finish the Coyotes stunned the Kansas Conference and NAIA with a 28-21 victory over previously unbeaten and No. 11-ranked Bethel on Saturday at Thresher Stadium.
Randalle threw for 320 yards and three touchdowns – all three to Hazuga, who entered the game with two catches for 32 yards in one previous appearance. The defense did the rest, holding the Threshers to three points in the second half – a field goal with 1:10 remaining in the game – and nearly 29 points below their season scoring average of 49.7.
Not bad for a program that had to replace 19 starters from its 2019 conference championship squad.
“I don’t really think anybody believed we could win this game except the Kansas Wesleyan family and our football program, KWU coach Myers Hendrickson said on his postgame radio show. “We’re a new team, new players at almost every position from our championship team last fall. We came out and showed what we’re capable of today with a lot of new players … on the road against one of the top teams in the country.”
The Coyotes (7-2 overall, 4-2 KCAC) served notice early on they weren’t going to be pushovers when Randalle hit Hazuga with a 60-yard touchdown pass with 4:31 left in the first quarter that gave them a 7-0 lead.
Bethel (9-1, 6-1 KCAC) answered with a 65-yard, seven-play drive capped by Mason Murray’s 14-yard scoring run. But the extra point kick failed and KWU still led 7-6 with 1:16 left in the quarter.
Chantz Scurry ended a 12-play, 80-yard scoring drive with a one-yard touchdown run that gave Bethel a 12-7 lead but the two-point conversion failed with 8:34 remaining in the half.
KWU drove deep into Bethel territory on its next possession but the drive stalled on downs inside the 1-yard line – the Coyotes unable to score on seven plays from the 6-yard line or closer.
Bethel was forced to punt on its next possession, but J.C. Shelton intercepted a Randalle pass at the Bethel 12 and two plays later Rudy Juarez went 79 yards for a touchdown with 24 seconds left in the half. Another two-point conversion attempt failed but the Threshers had an 18-7 advantage at halftime.
The second half was all Coyotes.
After a short Bethel punt to start the third quarter KWU went 40 yards for a touchdown, Randalle hitting Hazuga with a two-yard scoring pass with 10:08 left, cutting the deficit to 18-14.
Bethel tried a fake punt on its next possession but failed giving the Coyotes possession at the Thresher 41. Six plays later Randalle hit Drevon Macon (JR/Compton, Calif.) with a 26-yard pass to the 1-yard line and Nick Allsman (SO/Belleville, Kan.) scored on the next play, giving KWU a 21-18 lead with 4:40 left in the quarter.
Bethel drove to the Wesleyan 14-yard line where the drive stalled. After a false start penalty kicker Logan Demond missed a 36-yard field goal attempt on the fourth play of the fourth quarter.
Randalle and Hazuga made the errant kick even most costly when they hooked up for a 63-yard touchdown four plays later that extended the lead to 28-18 with 12:16 remaining.
Bethel then drove to the KWU 4-yard line but opted for a 21-yard Demond field goal with 1:10 left, making it 28-21.
The Coyotes, though, recovered the on-sides kick and Randalle kneeled down twice to end the game and seal the upset.
“We talked about playing 60 minutes of football,” Hendrickson said. “It’s not one quarter, it’s not two quarters, it’s not three quarters – it takes four quarters to beat a team of this caliber on the road.
“At halftime the energy was incredible, we believed in each other, we’re a family and to come out and respond the way we did was pretty special. When you’re playing a triple-option team and you’re down by that much at half it almost takes a perfect half to win.”
A huge part of the perfect half was the near-perfect play of the defense that limited Bethel to 125 yards of offense the final 30 minutes.
“I think we played good defense the whole game, especially in the fourth quarter,” Hendrickson said. “It was a complete game by our defense and a great defensive game plan by coach (Matt) Myers and coach (Josh) Lewis. Players played hard and I thought we played really well against their unique style of offense today.”
The defense was bolstered by the return of linebacker Zyair Velazquez (SR/San Diego, Calif.), who had 10 tackles, four for loss and half a sack.
“When (he’s) out there we’re a different defense,” Hendrickson said. “It took that type of intensity to handle the unique things that they do and I felt through the course of the game Zyair kept getting better and it showed at the end of the game.”
Randalle was spectacular directing the offense despite suffering a knee injury in the second half. He entered the game as the KCAC’s top passer at 275.6 yards per game.
“Isaiah was incredible the entire game,” Hendrickson said. “At times we had to put the game on his shoulders and let him make a throw. His leadership, his arm, his toughness was all on display today.”
Hendrickson said he felt going in his team could have success throwing the ball against Bethel’s secondary.
“We talked all week about how we wanted to challenge their (defensive backs) because we were playing a team that leads the nation in sacks,” he said. “We felt if we could get the ball out with Isaiah making really quick, great decisions like he was today that we’d have a chance to make plays.”
Hendrickson also had high praise for Hazuga, a transfer from Saginaw Valley (Mich.).
“He played incredible football,” he said. “We talk about players being ready when their number is called and his was today and he was ready to go.”
The Coyotes conclude the regular season against Tabor starting at 1 p.m. next Saturday in Hillsboro.