Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

September 8, 2013

Defense leads KCU past Bethel, 24-10

Ray Schaefer
For The Independent

GRAYSON — Kentucky Christian University lineman Preston Collier doused Knights head coach Gene Peterson with a full water cooler after Saturday's home opener against Bethel University. Peterson screamed.

“I about had a heart attack!” Peterson hollered.

Peterson survived — with no myocardial infarction — and the Knights thrived. They shut out the Wildcats in the second half on the way to a 24-10 victory.

When asked whether KCU's points or shutting out Bethel in the second half was better, Peterson quickly answered.

“I think shutting them out in the second half would have to be very, very important because if they scored, they'd have really tightened us up,” Peterson said. “Scoring 24 points in the first half is good. We had two or three opportunities in the second half when we should have scored. We went for some long (drives), and a penalty or two kept us out of the end zone.”

Bethel fell to 0-2, and Saturday was the first loss to KCU in four meetings. Wildcats head coach Chris Elliott offered a simple explanation for why it happened.

“They did everything we expected them to do,” Elliott said. “They played better than we did; they wanted to win, and we didn't want to.”

Indeed, there were contributions from KCU's offense, defense and special teams.

Junior quarterback Graham Johnston threw two second-quarter scores, a 5-yarder to senior Marcus Hicks and to junior Jalen Simmons for 32. He threw for 144 yards with two interceptions.

There were two KCU defensive highlights besides the shutout: not allowing Bethel an offensive touchdown all day; and junior cornerback Darrell Givens's two interceptions. Givens came to Grayson from Rutgers University, and he seems to be adjusting well.

“It's a lot different as a player,” Givens said. “It's football, fabulous football.”

Peterson thought blanking Bethel in the second half was important, but he also like what happened on the opening kick. Bethel's Stoney Burns took Andy Slikker's kickoff from eight yards deep in the end zone  to the Wildcat 9-yard line — and then lost the ball to KCU's Deshawn Rembert.

“Any time that happens, it just sets the tone for the rest of the game,” Peterson said. “I've been on both ends of that, and to go in and score, it kind of takes the air out of them.”

Two plays later, tailback Jamuel Jones scored from six yards out. He thought it was an example of the entire running game.

“We came straight out, inside zone, between the guards,” Jones said. “The outside linebackers, they were back in zone (pass coverage), the nose guard, he was getting pushed out, and we just read off the center (junior Blake Clowes).”

Jones led KCU with 100 rushing yards, and Demone Belmarez added 77.

The Wildcats' first drive was an eventual disaster: a minus-4 yard pass from B.J. Roberston to Jahron Reynolds and a lost fumble. Robertson spent most of the afternoon trying to escape KCU's rush.

“We didn't run the ball at all, which forced us to pass,” Elliott said. “We didn't protect our quarterback, so our quarterback was running for his life.”

Bethel's only touchdown came when outside linebacker Terrance Thomas intercepted a deflected Johnston pass from five yards out. Kicker Robbie Phillips' 24-yard first-quarter field goal were the Wildcats' only other points.

“Our blocking scheme up front, there was maybe a mistake there,” Peterson said. “A guy came off the end that shouldn't have and tipped the ball … Things in a ball game are going to happen that you can't control; you just play the next play.”

Givens spent most of the day guarding Reynolds or Travonta Thomas. His first pick led to Johnston-to-Hicks with a little more than five minutes left in the first quarter. He snagged his second by out-jumping two Wildcats in the end zone on the last play of the first half.

Simmons should consider buying sophomore receiver Andrew Vannatta a Sunday dinner for what he did. His block wiped out a Bethel defender at around the Bethel 25 and allowed Simmons to cruise untouched the rest of the way.

As for Hicks' score …

“I knew (the Wildcats) were in going man-to-man,” Johnston said. “I knew Marcus had a chance to get it … He's one of our top route runners.”

KCU improved to 1-1 and hosts Reinhardt University of Waleska, Ga., at 1:30 p.m. next Saturday.

Peterson won his first high school game in 2000 as Fleming County’s head coach in his second game (20-19 at Rowan County). Yesterday was nevertheless special.

“It's totally different,” Peterson said. “You have to understand who we played (yesterday). We played a top 10 team (Bethel was ninth in the NAIA Division I rankings) and we beat them here on our field. And I think that's a big signature win, and it's not all about me. It's our coaching staff and our kids; they've all worked hard.”