By Garth Shanklin
Two undefeated teams with contrasting styles met on the gridiron in Clermont County on Friday, Sept. 15,
The gunslinging Bethel-Tate Tigers traveled to Batavia for a non-league match against a Bulldog team that entered play with three different runners over 200 yards on the season. When the final horn sounded, Bethel-Tate held off a late Batavia rally for a 35-20 win.
Bethel-Tate head coach Jeff Essig had plenty of praise for his players after the victory, which improved the Tigers’ record to 4-0 for the first time since 2005.
“We know each other, they are a well-coached team,” Essig said. “We’re just focused on making sure we try to stay perfect. We did that tonight. I’m very proud of our boys, I’m proud of Seth [Becker]’s effort, Owen Holtke’s effort and Bradley Lewis’ effort along with Gabe Kilgore. They did a great job.”
Batavia head coach Scott Donaldson echoed that sentiment, adding praise for the Tiger quarterback of his own.
“They’re a good team,” Donaldson said. “They can definitely throw the ball. Becker’s a special player, that’s for sure. He’s a difference maker for them.”
Batavia’s defense kept the Tigers off the board until late in the first quarter, when Becker connected on a nine-yard touchdown pass to Drake Dockery to put the Tigers on top 7-0 with 2:59 left in the period.
After a Batavia punt, the Tigers returned to the end zone on a three-yard run by Becker at the 8:18 mark of the second quarter.
Five minutes of game time later, Bethel-Tate scored again. Owen Holtke dodged defenders for a three-yard touchdown run and a 21-0 Bethel-Tate lead with 3:24 left in the half.
Batavia snatched back some of the momentum a few plays later. Will Scaggs connected with Deven Williams on a 71-yard touchdown pass, cutting the Bethel-Tate lead to 21-7 with 1:47 left before the break.
Batavia got the ball back with a chance to cut into the lead even further, but time ran out and the team trailed by 14 at halftime.
Bethel-Tate regained the lost momentum and then some right out of the gate in the second half. After an offsides penalty on Batavia forced a re-kick, Cooper Dunn sprung Holtke free with a block for an 85-yard touchdown return, putting the Tigers back on top 28-7.
Donaldson said that kickoff return wiped out any momentum the Bulldogs had built.
“We had some momentum going into the half, then they returned the kickoff back and it took the momentum out of us,” Donaldson said. “We were moving the ball. Like I said, that special teams kick just killed us.”
To the Bulldogs’ credit, they didn’t roll over. Batavia took the next drive down the field and scored on a keeper by Scaggs. The extra point was dropped, putting Batavia down 28-13.
“We fought back, and I told them I was very encouraged with the fight that we showed,” Donaldson said. “We just need to clean up a few mistakes here and there.”
With four seconds left in the third quarter, it appeared the game was about to turn again. Bethel-Tate drove all the way down to the Batavia three yard-line, only to lose the ball. The Bulldogs recovered with four seconds left in the third quarter.
On the ensuing drive, it appeared the Tigers had stopped the Bulldogs on fourth down, as the pass from Scaggs was overthrown. An offsides penalty on the Tigers, one of several on both teams, gave Batavia another chance, and Brandon Brookbank hauled in a 33-yard pass to move the chains.
“We try to stay disciplined,” Essig said. “It’s disappointing to be that far down and all the sudden we get called back. We’ll look at the tape, we’ll fix it and we’ll go from there.”
Jason Griffin danced into the end zone from 16 yards out on the next play to cut the Bethel-Tate lead to 28-20 with 4:24 remaining. The Tigers were able to drain most of the remaining time off the clock, scoring on a 20-yard run by Becker with 39 seconds left. Batavia came up short on fourth down later in the drive, ending the game.
Becker finished the game 18 of 29 passing for 234 yards and a touchdown. He also carried the ball 21 times for 137 yards and two more scores. Holtke added 63 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries for Bethel-Tate, with Dunn leading the Tiger receivers with seven catches for 84 yards.
Batavia was led on the ground by Scaggs, who tallied 21 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries. Brookbank added eight carries for 32 yards, with Griffin chipping in six for 49 and a touchdown.
Scaggs completed half of his passing attempts (seven of 14) for 184 yards and the deep touchdown to Williams. He was intercepted twice, something Donaldson said the Bulldogs could not afford.
“We made too many mistakes,” Donaldson said. “We can’t have a kick returned against us, we can’t lose the turnover battle. You do that, you’re not going to win.”
Bethel-Tate’s defense sacked Scaggs twice, one of which came courtesy of Bradley Lewis, his seventh of the season. Lewis is tied for first in the city in sacks with McNicholas’ Jackson Gear.
“That’s been one of our focuses this year,” Essig said. “Nobody talks about our defense, which I like, because it allows us to sneak up on people like we did tonight. Everyone talks about our explosive offense, everyone knows what we do offensively, but hopefully our defense will start getting talked about.”
Batavia has another key non-league game next week when the team travels to Fayetteville to take on the undefeated Rockets. Bethel-Tate returns home for a game against Western Brown, a familiar foe for Essig and Becker.
“It’ll be a good game,” Essig said. “I’m two years away now, [Becker] is here one year removed. It’ll be interesting, our guys will be focused. It’s a non-league game but we know each other well, we try to do some of the same things on offense. It’ll be exciting.”
Western Brown at Bethel-Tate is a 7 p.m. start on Friday, Sept. 22. Batavia at Fayetteville starts at 7:30 p.m.