LAKELAND, Fla.—The ability to convert on third down, and 21 plays of 10 or more yards allowed Bethel (Tenn.) to come away with a 40-35 win over Southeastern in the NAIA Football Game of the Week.
The 17th-ranked Wildcats (4-0) snapped the ball 24 more times, and outgained the Fire 556-301.
Despite this, the Fire took the lead with 13:06 remaining in the contest when Blade Denmark forced a Sam Castronova fumble on a sack and Philip Smith scooped it up and scored from 34 yards out to give SEU a 35-31 lead.
“Our defense played strong all night,” said coach Keith Barefield. “There were a few times that they bent, but didn’t break, and I was proud of their effort and made things happen.”
However, Castronova answered on the next drive with a 15-yard TD run to put his team back on top. His defense came up with interceptions on the next two Fire drives to cement the win.
The Wildcats’ quarterback led the charge with 192 passing yards and 91 rushing yards with two scores.
Bethel led 17-7 at the half, then made it a 17-point advantage on a five-yard scoring run by Davius Prather with 10:11 left in the third.
“Our guys showed a lot of heart and enthusiasm and began to play as a team,” said Barefield of the comeback. “They really rallied around each other, and I think it brought the guys together and showed if they play for one another, then a lot of good things can happen.”
Southeastern quarterback Ryder Litten found Charlie Cook for a 31-yard touchdown pass on 3rd and 6 to set off a streak of 21-straight points by the Fire to take the lead. Litten also ran in from a yard out on the first play of the fourth quarter to get his team within three.
Litten finished the day 13-of-23 passing for 119 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions, and added 58 yards on 12 carries with two rushing touchdowns.
The Fire enter Sun Division play next Saturday at Webber International. Kickoff at Dennison Stadium in Winter Haven is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
Team Statistics
Game Stats BU SEU
First Downs 30 18
Total Offensive Yards 556 301
Passing Yards 192 119
Rushing Yards 364 182
Penalty Yards 10-106 7-71
3rd Downs 9-18 3-11
4th Downs 2-3 1-1
Time Of Possession 31:24 24:46