By Josh Brown
BRANDT — The Bethel Bees took important steps forward in 2015 — and even figured into deciding the Cross County Conference championship, even if it was in the role of spoiler.
And while the Bethel football team finished the season 5-5 and is still looking to post its first winning season since it went 7-3 in 2010, the Bees were competitive more often than not and will look to make even more progress in the coming season.
After losing seven straight to end the 2014 season, the Bees’ first under coach Scott Clodfelter, Bethel dropped its eighth straight to open 2015 in a narrow 28-27 loss at Northridge, which ended up being the only team with a losing record that Bethel lost to all season, with the Polar Bears finishing 4-6.
The Bees bounced back against Mississinawa Valley, routing the Blackhawks 42-0 to open CCC play before a non-league test against Dayton Christian — who, at the time, was the fourth-ranked team in Division VI and finished the season 7-3. Down by three in the fourth quarter, Bethel churned out an 80-yard touchdown drive polished off by a touchdown by running back Josh Wills, then the Bees forced a turnover and got another score by Wills to seal the win.
Wills finished the season with 1,469 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns and threw a 19-yard touchdown pass on his only attempt of the year. He was named first team All-Southwest District and second team All-Ohio for his efforts and was the Bees’ primary threat all season long.
The Bees then hit their toughest stretch of the season, facing the league’s top three teams in Covington, Tri-County North and Miami East in three consecutive weeks.
Against the Buccaneers — a team that had beaten the Bees by 34 the season before — Bethel trailed only by six at the half before making costly mistakes early in the second half that led to a 30-8 loss. Following that, the Bees were shut out for the only time of the season, falling 28-0 at Tri-County North, which finished the year 7-3.
The Bees finished the stretch with arguably their worst game of the year, falling 48-7 to Miami East. The Bees have up more than 500 yards of total offense in the game while only running for 106 as a team themselves — 62 of those coming on a late touchdown run by Wills with the score already 48-0. Miami East and Covington ended up sharing the CCC title and both went to the playoffs, finishing the year 8-3.
Following that, though, the Bees posted their signature win of the year in Week 7.
Twin Valley South, a playoff team the year before and one of the unbeaten contenders for the CCC title at the time, took an early 14-0 lead over the Bees, but Wills carried Bethel back into the game and made it 14-13 early in the third. The teams traded scored, with the Panthers leading 22-19 late — but Bethel recovered an onside kick after its score and drove into field goal range. Stetson Peake kicked a 22-yard field goal to give the Bees a 22-21 lead, and Bethel held on to spoil the Panthers’ shot at the league title as they finished the year 6-4.
The Bees rode that momentum in Week 8 against National Trail. Though both teams entered with 3-4 records, Bethel showed its potential by tallying more than 600 yards of offense in a convincing 72-15 victory. And the next week, the Bees outscored Ansonia 27-6 in the fourth quarter to put away a 48-27 victory to improve to 5-4 on the season and give themselves a shot at a winning record with Arcanum to finish things off in Week 10.
But Arcanum had won four straight going into the final week itself, and the Trojans turned an 11-point halftime lead into a 65-22 victory as the Bees simply ran out of gas. Arcanum outscored Bethel 20-0 in the third quarter to take a 53-22 lead and cruised from there.
All of which leaves plenty of questions heading into the 2016 season. Bethel showed it could win the close games against tough competition last season — a step forward from the year before. The next step? Having the fortitude to do it all the way from Week 1 to Week 10.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.