The Clermont Northeastern Rockets rode a strong running game and an opportunistic defense to a 24-21 win over Bethel-Tate in week seven.
The Rockets forced a trio of turnovers and blocked two extra points in the victory, which improved the team’s record to 5-2 overall this season and a perfect 2-0 in Southern Buckeye Athletic and Academic Conference National Division play.
Bethel-Tate struck first in the game, converting a fumble by CNE into a touchdown. Noah Macko scored on a three-yard run for Bethel-Tate to put the Tigers on top 7-0 with 9:30 left in the first quarter.
After a Kyle Dean punt pinned Bethel-Tate at their own two yard-line, the Tigers moved the ball near midfield only to cough it up themselves. Gavin Hickey then scored on a one-yard run to knot things up at seven with 2:43 left in the quarter.
The Tigers struck through the air in the second half. Freshman Gauge Dunn caught a quick pass from Alex Manz and did the rest, scoring a 34-yard touchdown to give the Tigers a 13-7 lead. Albert Cory blocked the Bethel-Tate extra point.
CNE answered with an air attack of their own. Dylan Gilley found Matthew Jenkins deep down the sideline for a 37-yard strike, and with a second Dean extra point the Rockets took a 14-13 lead into the break.
The Rockets extended their lead in the third quarter. Joslin scored on short run for CNE, putting his team on top by eight with 3:15 left in the third quarter.
After the Tigers turned the ball over on downs, CNE immediately fumbled it right back. Bethel-Tate took over at the Rockets’ 15, but Manz threw another interception to end the drive.
Bethel-Tate’s defense stood tall on the next drive, dropping CNE’s Gilley in the end zone for a safety to cut the lead to 21-15 with 11:11 left.
The Tigers tied the game on that drive, scoring on a 14-yard run to tie the game at 21. Cory again blocked the extra point, and the game stayed tied.
CNE drove down the field, taking roughly eight minutes off the clock, and took the lead on a field goal by Dean with 3:18 left.
On the ensuing kickoff, Dean’s kick went out of bounds. Instead of taking the penalty, Tigers head coach Jeff Essig chose to have the Rockets re-kick. The second kickoff was a bouncer that the Tigers couldn’t field, allowing CNE to recover the kick and run out the rest of the clock.
Essig said the research he does on the game told him his best option was to re-kick, but regardless he took responsibility for the call.
“Hindsight’s 20-20 with that play,” Essig said. “I’ve always read some different things, and I went with what research has said, supposedly. That late in the game…I shoulder that for our team.”
The play was the last of several key plays by the CNE special teams unit. Head coach Jeremy Fishback praised that group of Rockets for coming up big when it mattered most.
“They really did,” Fishback said. “Our special teams, I’m proud of those guys.”
Gilley finished the game with eight completions for 120 yards and a touchdown. He also carried the ball 13 times for 39 yards.
Joslin led the Rockets with 118 yards rushing on 20 attempts. Hickey recorded 53 yards and a score on 13 tries. Fishback said the team’s offensive line opened holes for the running backs.
“I saw my line put their knuckles in the dirt and move people off the ball,” Fishback said. “That’s what we do. It was exciting for me to see that moving forward.”
David Pride caught five passes in the game for 57 yards. He also led the team on defense with 11 tackles and a sack. Jenkins had two receptions for 43 yards and a touchdown, and Luke Rayburn added a catch for 20 yards.
Neil Dahlhimer, Joslin, Jay Jay Stricker and Logan Pottorf also recorded sacks for CNE. Rayburn and Cory had the Rockets’ two interceptions.
For Bethel-Tate, Manz completed 17 passes for 256 yards and a touchdown, along with two interceptions. Essig said the Tigers expect some turnovers, but the improvement from week one to now has been noticeable.
“We know going in we’re going to get some interceptions here and there,” Essig said. “[Manz is] still learning. He’s a junior. He’s learning every day. We’re getting better every day. If you look at week one against Waynesville to now, he’s making better throws, making better reads and our guys are catching better. When you look out there, you see a freshman, a sophomore, another freshman and a junior.”
Essig added the Tigers are youthful on both sides of the ball, but he doesn’t want to use that lack of experience as crutch.
“We only play two seniors on the offensive side, and we play three seniors on the defensive side,” Essig said. “We’re young, but we don’t want to use that as an excuse. We want to make sure we’re executing and doing all the things we need to do every play instead of here and there. That’ll come with time. We’re excited about what’s coming up, but we have to do some things now.”
Two Tigers finished with over 100 yards receiving. Dunn recorded 11 catches for 116 yards and a touchdown. Dylan Poff had four catches for 107 yards.
Macko added 75 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.
Defensively, Connor Glenn, Cole Grigsby, Gabe Kilgore and Normal Darnell Jr. all had at least 10 tackles. Kilgore added a sack. Manz had a fumble recovery and six tackles.
Overall, Essig said a general lack of execution is what did the team in, despite focusing on that very aspect of the game this week.
“Our whole thing this week was focused execution,” Essig said. “We wanted to put a full four quarters up…couple mistakes here and there, and it’s a different ballgame. Early in the first half, we had a good gain and we got a holding call. We got some blocked PATs…We didn’t execute very well at times.”
Fishback finished by praising the Tigers and crediting the team’s defense for helping seal the win.
“They’re a good ball club,” Fishback said. “Our kids never quit fighting, they always knew they were in the game. It was a good game, and our defense pulled through for us.”
The Rockets host Blanchester in week eight. Both teams enter the game 2-0 in the National Division. Bethel-Tate welcomes East Clinton to campus. Both games are slated to begin at 7 p.m.
For more pictures from the Rockets’ win, check out our Facebook photo gallery.