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Cats Look to Return to Championship Form

Contributed by admin on Aug 20, 2015 - 10:15 PM
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The 2014 Bethel football season was a story of two seasons in one for the Wildcats. The Cats finished with a 5-6 overall record and a 2-3 mark in the Mid-South Conference. The Wildcats began the season with five straight losses but won five of their last six games. They finished the season with a three game winning streak.   The Cats return eight starters on offense and six on the defensive side of the ball. Bethel lost 17 seniors from the 2014 squad but several key Wildcats return to form a good nucleus for the upcoming season.

Coach Chris Elliott enters his fourth season as head coach with a career mark of 16-19. He was the Mid-South Conference Western Division Coach of the Year in 2012 with a 9-4 overall mark. The Wildcats were undefeated in conference play with a 6-0 record and finished No. 9 in the Final 2012 NAIA Football Coaches Top 25 Poll. The Wildcats made it to the second round of the NAIA Championship Series.

With forty two returning lettermen and an outstanding recruiting class the 2015 Wildcats look to return as a conference and national mainstay.

Bethel had three players named to the 2014 MSC First Team All-Conference squad. John Ilaria, Stoney Burns, and Robby Phillips earned those honors. Bethel's Devan Raymer was named to the MSC Second Team All-Conference squad. Burns was named to the NAIA All-American team for the second straight season.

The squad had 11 Academic All-Conference student-athletes and four NAIA Scholar Athletes.

Bethel will need to fill some key positions with the departure of several important members of seasons past. The Wildcats had three players named to the 2014 USA College Football All-American team who graduated. Defensive back Stoney Burns made the first team for the second year in a row. Offensive lineman John Illaria was named to the second team. Linebacker Tyler Murray was on the honorable mention list. Burns finished his Bethel career with 13 interceptions which ties him for second on the career list at Bethel. Murray finished his career with 325 total tackles which places him first in school history.  He led the squad last year with 100 total tackles. Phillips averaged 43.0 yards per punt during the 2014 campaign. 

Bethel will depend on several experienced and talented players to lead the squad in 2015. Senior Anthony Debonis led the squad in 2013 with 107 total tackles but was red-shirted last year due to a spring game injury. Three Wildcats rushed for over 500 yards last year. Devin Raymer returns for his junior season after rushing for 760 yards.  He has 871 career rushing yards which places him eighth on the Bethel career rushing list. Sophomore Jaquell Fitts rushed for 510 yards his freshman season.  Quarterback Kerry Sellers will be a junior after he rushed for 501 yards and passed for 978 yards with six touchdown tosses. Bethel's leading receiver, Quincy Walden is back after catching 21 passes with two of those for touchdowns.   Kicker Casey Kammerzell is back after hitting 31-of-32  point after attempts and was six-of-eight in field goals. Five of Bethel's top ten tacklers are back in Brenton Davis (56) Max Massengill (56) Vic Czyzewski (45) Joshua Burns (43) and Jerry Bradford (36).  

The 2015 schedule will be challenging with seven road games and only four home affairs. Bethel will open the season August 29 in St. Louis against Missouri Baptist University at 6 p.m. MBU is in its second season after being 1-10 in its inaugural year in 2014. After an early open date the Wildcats travel to UT-Martin on September 10th for a Thursday night game against the Sky Hawks at 6:30 p.m. It will be the first meeting between the two programs since 1995. They have met on the gridiron 22 times with UTM holding a 12-9-1 advantage in the series.  The home opener is September 19 against Pikeville with the kick-off slated for 1:30 p.m. Bethel beat the Bears last year in McKenzie 28-14. The Wildcats go back on the road the following week (9/26) traveling to Grayson, Kentucky to meet Kentucky Christian at 12:30 p.m. KCU beat Bethel 30-9 last season in McKenzie. The Wildcats lead the series 3-2. The Cats are back in the Commonwealth the following week (10/3) to meet the University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg at 12:30 p.m. The Patriots lead the series 12-3. It will be the first time the two have met since 2011.   The Union College Bulldogs invade Wildcat Stadium on October 10 at 1:30 p.m. UC leads the series 6-5. It will be the first time the squads have met since 2012.  Campbellsville travels to McKenzie on October 10 for a 1:30 kick-off with the Tigers leading the series 8-3 after their 44-3 win in Campbellsville last year. It will be Homecoming for the Wildcats. The Wildcats travel to Montgomery, Alabama on October 24 to attempt   to snap a two-game losing streak to Faulkner. Kick-off is slated for 1:30 p.m. Bethel leads the series 6-2 after Faulkner beat the Cats in McKenzie last year 27-7. The Wildcats travel to Cumberland University on October 31 to meet the Bulldogs. It will be the 27th meeting between the two programs which represents the most ever against an opponent for Bethel. Cumberland leads the series 16-9-1 but Bethel chained the Bulldogs 49-14 last year in McKenzie.  The Lindsey Wilson Blue Raiders invade Wildcat Stadium November 7 for a 1:30 p.m. kick-off.  It will be just the second time the two programs have met with Bethel winning at Lindsey Wilson in 2012.  Bethel closes out the regular season in Waleska, Georgia against Reinhardt on October 14. Reinhardt leads the series 3-0 after thumping then Cats 63-35 last year. Kick-off is scheduled for 11 a.m.   Three of Bethel's opponents are ranked in the NAIA Division I Top 25 Coaches Preseason Poll. Lindsey Wilson is No. 7 while Faulkner is ranked No. 10 and Campbellsville is No. 15. 

Coach Elliott's staff has familiar faces returning for another season. Alan Hollowell will again coach the offensive line and be the Run Game Coordinator. He also serves as recruiting coordinator for the Wildcats. Willie Fells is the Defensive Coordinator and works with the Cornerbacks. Paul Frazier will coach Tight Ends and serve as the Video Coordinator while Luke Roth will be the Special Team Coordinator and work with the Running Backs. Former Wildcat star Antonio Brown is the Pass Game Coordinator / WR/ Strength and Conditioning coach. Ryan Wall is a second year assistant, coaching the defensive line. Brandon Corbin will coach defensive backs and safeties. Graduate Assistant Ethan Carter will coach Outside Linebackers. Graduate Assistant Tyler Murray will be in charge of Inside Linebackers. Hayden Whitby will serve as a student assistant.

The Wildcat coaching staff had a solid off-season picking up local and national recruits on both sides of the ball. Bethel was picked to finish in a tie for fifth with Cumberland University in the West Division of the Mid-South Conference Preseason Coaches' Poll.

The Missouri Baptist game to open the season will mark the 407th game played in Bethel football history. MBU will be the 111th different opponent the Cats have faced. Bethel is 143-255-8 in those games.