By Garth Shanklin
If there’s one thing fans of the Bethel-Tate Tigers should know about the team, it’s that the offense is capable of putting up points. Quickly. As such, leaving games early, regardless of the score, is probably not the best idea.
The Tigers’ 26-23 road victory at Amelia on Sept. 23 was a prime example of that. Scoreless at the end of the first quarter, the Barons struck first on a touchdown grab by Ryan Cann to take an early 7-0 lead.
After the Barons’ defense forced a turnover on downs, Amelia connected on another touchdown pass, this one a 29-yard strike to Blake Boykin with 8:22 left in the half. The teams traded possessions until late in the half, when Amelia had a chance to add three points on a field goal. The Tigers blocked the kick, and Amelia led 14-0 at the break.
Bethel-Tate failed to move the ball on their first possession of the second half, instead settling for a punt. Amelia took over, and less than a minute later the snap from the Barons’ center sailed over the head of quarterback Trey Brausch. The Barons fell on the ball in the end zone for a safety, cutting their lead to 14-2.
On the ensuing drive, the Tigers marched down the field thanks to a pair of penalties on Amelia. They converted on a short touchdown run to cut the Barons’ lead to 14-8 after the two-point conversion attempt failed.
Amelia moved the ball back down the field again, but Austin Veve intercepted the Barons’ pass in the end zone to end the drive.
The Barons added to their lead early in the fourth quarter on a field goal with 11:12 left in the contest. Head coach Dave Brausch acknowledged his team’s ability to move the ball, but they couldn’t quite find a way to punch it into the end zone.
“We moved the ball and we’d get down and we couldn’t get it all the way in,” Brausch said. “We just couldn’t make the big play to get us into the end zone, we were one play short most of the night.”
After a Chris Wheeler overthrow resulted in a Baron interception, the Tigers’ defense forced a punt, giving Bethel-Tate the ball at the Amelia 28. Cooper scored on a quarterback keeper with 6:57 left to pull the Tigers within three at 17-14.
The teams traded punts, then things got interesting. Cooper ripped off a 70-yard run on second down to put Bethel-Tate ahead 20-17. It was a short-lived lead, however. After Amelia blocked the extra point, Boykin returned the ensuing kickoff 85 yards for his second touchdown of the game, putting Amelia back on top.
Bethel-Tate got the ball back and moved down the field, highlighted by Wheeler dodging pressure to complete a pass to Austin Carter and convert a fourth-and-eight. On the very next play, Wheeler hit Owen Holtke in the corner of the end zone for what turned out to be the game-winning score. Amelia got the ball back and moved it deep into Bethel-Tate territory, but sophomore Gabe Noble intercepted a pass to seal the Tiger win.
Bethel-Tate coach Jeff Essig said his team’s never-say-die attitude is one of their keys, especially with their quick-strike offense.
“It was great, our kids never quit,” Essig said. “That’s one thing we pride ourselves on is our conditioning and our will to never quit. With our offense, we’re always in the game.”
Essig also credited his defense, especially defensive coordinator Randy Hospelhorn, who served as Amelia’s head coach from 2009-2014. Essig said the team wanted to make sure he got the victory in his last opportunity before the Glen Este-Amelia merger next year.
“Our defense played terrific tonight,” Essig said. “Coach Hospelhorn got a win on the last time he’ll ever be on this field. This was really important for our kids and to make sure we won for him.”
The Tigers totaled a pair of interceptions as well as a sack on defense. The sack was recorded by Bradley Lewis. Offensively, Wheeler completed 11 of 33 passes for Bethel-Tate, totaling 182 yards and a touchdown. He threw two interceptions.
Cooper carried the ball 20 times for 209 yards and a pair of scores. Wheeler tallied nine carries, one of which was a touchdown. Holtke only had three carries, but he tallied 22 yards on the ground. Essig said the team’s backfield duo is what allowed them to rally in the second half after struggling to move the ball in the first two quarters.
“We’re just trying to do too much,” Essig said. “We weren’t really reading and taking what they were giving us. The running game opened up really fast, so we started hammering on that. We have a good one-two punch in Owen Holtke and and Steven Cooper, so it’s just great to be able to replace one with the other and never miss a beat.”
Cooper also led the Tigers in receptions and yards, with five catches for 90 yards in the contest. Carter had three for 35, Noble one for 37, and Holtke’s only reception was a 20-yard touchdown. Drake Dockery also had an 11-yard grab for the Tigers.
For the Barons, Mitch Mentzel tallied a sack and an interception. Boykin also had a pick. Jake Rose had 1.5 sacks for Amelia, with Kyle Nicodemus collecting the assist. Brausch credited the defense for their effort in the game, noting they may have counted on that side of the ball more often for stops than they should have.
“Our defense has done it all year,” Brausch said. “Our defense is our strength, and we relied on it one too many times on it tonight, I guess. Those coaches and kids coached, prepared and played their guts out tonight, and that’s a tough one to take.”
Offensively, Trey Brausch completed seven of 16 passes for 107 yards and two touchdowns, both in the first half. He also threw two interceptions.
Eli Altherr led the team with 22 carries for 153 yards. While most of that came before the second half, Brausch said the team’s negative plays set the running game back.
“I thought we did pretty good,” Brausch said. “I think Altherr was right at 100 yards at halftime and he had a few good runs in the second half. We just had something that would happen, like a bad snap or a missed block. When you’re running the ball, you can’t have any negative plays and we would have on here and there.”
Cann and Boykin each had three receptions, with Cann totaling 24 yards and a touchdown. Boykin’s three receptions went for 67 yards and a score. Mentzel had the other Barons catch, a 16 yard grab.
The Barons will look to pick up their third win of the season on Friday, Sept. 30 at 7 p.m. in a road trip to Norwood. Brausch said the team has to make sure they’re ready to play the Indians.
“We just have to buckle down,” Brausch said. “I’ve always been a faith, family, football guy and it has to be that way. When you’re a student, school has to be right there with the football. Everybody has to buy in.”
Bethel-Tate, meanwhile, will look to even their record at 3-3 on the season in their bout against Southern Buckeye Athletic and Academic Conference National Division foe Batavia. The game is expected to begin at 7 p.m.