By Garth Shanklin
On a night where the off-field events were more important than the on-field play, the Bethel-Tate Tigers made sure that fans who made the trip to Roger Bacon’s Bron Bacevich Stadium did not leave disappointed.
Days prior to the Thursday night contest, the athletic departments at both schools announced a supply drive would be held, with all donations benefitting people affected by Hurricane Harvey. Donations at the game allowed fans reduced price entry, with all donations collected going to Matthew 25 Ministries. As the donations at the front gate rolled in, the Bethel-Tate offense rolled on the field.
The Tigers rolled to a 40-0 victory thanks to an offense that did just enough to score points and a defense that stifled the Titans at every turn.
Bethel-Tate drove the ball down the field quickly on their first drive of the game, only to come up short on fourth down. After the Tigers forced a Titan punt with 4:30 left in the first quarter, Bethel-Tate struck, with Seth Becker connecting on a 20-yard touchdown pass to Nate Owens. After a missed extra point, the Tigers led 6-0.
Another punt gave the Tigers great field position at the St. Bernard 25 with 8:48 left in the half. Bethel-Tate scored three plays later on a one-yard touchdown pass from Becker to Chris Wheeler, putting the Tigers on top 13-0. Becker added a one-yard touchdown run before half to give the Tigers a 20-0 lead at the break.
The ground game found the endzone in the third quarter, with the Tigers taking advantage of a face mask on the Titans to put up another score. Owen Holtke scored on the option run, making it 26-0 Bethel-Tate with 11:23 left in the third quarter. Holtke scored again later in the period, taking a short pass from Becker the distance for a 33-0 Tiger lead. Becker scored another rushing touchdown from 10 yards out with 9:45 remaining for the Tigers’ final score of the game.
Head coach Jeff Essig said starting the regular season 2-0 is big for the team.
“It feels great,” Essig said. “I haven’t checked the record books or anything like that but I can’t remember the last time a Bethel-Tate team started 2-0. That’s real big for us. We’re just so excited to be talked about.”
The Tigers finished the game with 490 total yards of offense, 110 of which came on the ground. Becker completed 22 of his 34 passes for 380 yards and three touchdowns. His 11 carries for 69 yards and two touchdowns also led the team.
Bethel-Tate’s deep passing game was slightly off all game long, with several passes sailing just over the arms of receivers. Essig said Becker took advantage of what the defense gave him.
“The underneath routes were there,” Essig said. “He squeezes the ball a bit too hard, and he knows that. We’ll get that handled, but all in all, he’s able to run and do something we need to be able to do. We’re able to spread the ball around and share with everybody.”
Holtke caught six passes for 107 yards and a touchdown, while Wheeler also caught six balls for 68 yards and a score. Cooper Dunn caught five passes for 151 yards, with Owens adding four receptions for 39 yards and a score. Defensively, the Tigers tallied seven sacks, with Gabe Kilgore and Michael Whittington each recording 1.5. Charlie Paul, Bradley Lewis, Jerret Walters and Owens tallied one sack each.
Essig credited his defensive coordinator for getting the Tigers’ defense to where they are right now.
“The defense played terrific tonight,” Essig said. “That was our main focus in the offseason, to make sure our defense got straightened out, and Coach Hospelhorn has done a great job of that.”
The coach added that the team’s defensive line and linebackers have the physical tools and do a good job executing the defensive schemes.
“We’re taking great pride in our defensive line,” Essig said. “I think we have a pretty decent defensive line and our linebacking corps is some of our strongest and biggest kids. We’re just proud of them being able to see the ball and do the schemes Coach Hospelhorn comes up with.”
Offensively, Essig blamed the Tigers’ slow start on some less-than-aggressive practices earlier in the week.
“I blame it on practice,” Essig said. “We need to be a little more aggressive in practice. We didn’t have too much focus. We had a good defensive practice and a bad offensive practice, then a bad defensive practice and a good offensive practice. We just have to put a whole week together and we’ll gel.”
The Tigers had over a week to prepare for their next opponent. Bethel-Tate faces off against Purcell Marian at home on Friday, Sept. 8 at 7 p.m