If Buena Vista University football coach Steve Osterberger found out anything about his team in it's 34-24 loss to Bethel College here Saturday, it's that there's no quit in it.
He also found out this group has the potential to win a lot of football games.
In the 2004 opener for both teams, the Beavers trailed 20-2 at the half and 26-2 early in the third quarter.
"It was a five hour trip there and I think it took us a while to get our feet on the ground," said Osterberger Sunday evening. "Once we settled down, we played much better."
The Beavers got their passing attack in gear in the third quarter and scored three straight touchdowns to trail just 26-24 to the 15th-ranked Royals with 5 minutes, 11 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
"We were like two different teams from the one that played in the first half and and the one which came back in most of the second," Osterberger said. "We found out that this is a group that we think can play with anybody and we know we'll play hard every play of every game."
The Beavers' comeback fell short. Bethel took advantage of an interception to score a late touchdown for the final margin.
"It was a 26-24 game in my mind,"Osterberger said. "But we learned our kids have big hearts to play the 15th ranked team in the nation that tough."
Offensively, it was a mixed bag for the Beavers. The two big question marks for BVU going in was how quarterback Craig Novacek would perform in his first game as a starter and how the team would run the football.
Novacek, who inherited the starting job in pre-season practice after veteran quarterback Eric Wiebers opted not to go out for football his senior year, was outstanding.
A senior from Riceville, Novacek hit on 17 of 33 passes for 257 yards and one touchdown.
"Craig had a great game," added Osterberger.
Novacek did throw five interceptions, but the Beavers had to pass because of the large deficit.
BVU also had a hard-time running the ball, another question mark going into the game. All told, the Beavers rushed 29 times but for just 11 yards.
"We have to be able to run the ball better than that," Osterberger said. "But Bethel was putting seven and eight guys up in the box so it was tough to get our running game going."
The Royals, meanwhile, had good balance in their attack. They rushed 50 times for 199 yards and quarterback A.J. Parnell hit on 16 of 28 passes for 235 yards.
But most of that was in the first half.
"We made a nice defensive stop right at the end of the first half and played better defense the rest of the way," Osterberger said.
Bethel opened the scoring on the game's second possession on a 69-yard scoring pass from Parnell to running back Phil Porta.
Novacek threw an interception near midfield on the Beavers' second possession and Bethel quickly turned that into six points, marching thirty yards before Porta ran in from 19-yards out.
BVU went three and out on it's next possession and Bethel made the score 20-0 with 14:55 left in the second quarter, mounting a 13-play, 90-yard drive that was capped on a four-yard run by fullback Chris Evans.
On the PAT pass attempt, BVU's Scott Jamison made an interception and returned the ball 100-yards, but for just two points.
The BVU defense held Bethel scoreless during the remainder of the second quarter.
"We almost shut them out from the second quarter on," said Osterberger. "I think it took some of our newer faces a while to adjust to the speed of the game."
The Royals scored on the second half's opening possession, marching 63-yards using just six plays. Bethel took a 26-2 lead, it's largest of the game, after Parnell hit John Croyle on a 12-yard scoring pass with 12:11 left in the third quarter.
The Beaver defense tightened up and they finally started moving the ball.
BVU took over after the kick at it's own 25 yard-line and used ten plays to drive 71 yards before Novacek found Laurens junior receiver Jesse Schmidt in the end zone on a four-yard scoring pass.
After a defensive stop, BVU mounted another scoring drive. Starting at their own 34, the Beavers used just 1:31 of the clock to drive the distance. Chad Pearson capped the drive with a one-yard run and Schmidt got the conversion pass as the Beavers trailed just 26-18 with 14:11 left in the fourth quarter.
During the drive, Novacek completed a 29-yard pass to Chad Hinrichs and a 31-yarder to wide-out Justin Wiig, who finished with eight catches for 149 yards.
The BVU defense yielded just one first down on the Royals' next possession and took over at their own 29 after a punt.
This time, BVU marched the distance using 13 plays before Novacek snuck in from a yard out. During the drive, the rookie quarterback completed a 27-yard pass to Wiig on a third and 14 situation and also ran for three yards to the Bethel 24 on a fourth and one situation.
The Beavers went for the tie on the extra-point, but that failed when Novacek threw an incomplete pass to Schmidt on the PAT.
Bethel took over at its own 20 after the kick, but was forced to punt, with the Beavers having a chance to win after taking possession at their own 17 with 3:39 left.
But on a third and eight from the BVU 19, Bethel's defensive back Peter Eastlund made what could have been a game-saving play. Eastlund picked off a Novacek pass at the BV 31 and ran it back to the one-yard line.
Porta scored on the next play, then rushed for the PAT for a 34-24 Royal lead with 2:29 left, icing the contest.
Bethel's victory was aided by some key third-down possessions, as the Royals converted on 9 of 18 third down situations and was one of three on fourth downs.
Schmidt finished with one touchdown catch and caught four passes for 58 yards. Punter Chris Kemmerer had an outstanding afternoon, averaging 43 yards per punt with a long punt of 57 yards.
Meanwhile, the Beavers have two weeks to get ready for their conference and home opener, which might be it's toughest conference game of the season.
BVU faces pre-season Iowa Conference favorite Wartburg Saturday, Sept. 18.
"Obviously, we start the season with a tough schedule," Osterberger said. "In the playoffs last year, Wartburg won a close game with Bethel."
Wartburg enters the game ranked eighth in the nation in the d3football.com national poll.
"We'll have a good two weeks of practice and I know our guys are going to be pumped to play Wartburg," Osterberger said.