By Josh Brown
BRANDT — The third year’s the charm.
That’s what Bethel football coach Scott Clodfelter said when he took over the program in 2014. After three years, the new coach has his system in, the players know what he wants and the culture around the team should expect results.
The Bees went 3-7 in 2014 and went 5-5 in Clodfelter’s second year in 2015, narrowly missing their first winning season since going 7-3 in 2010, and though Clodfelter knew that it was the key season, he still tried to measure expectations heading into the 2016 season.
“After three years, you know the direction of the program, and hopefully we continue to improve,” Clodfelter said before the season began. “We don’t have any goals so far as numbers of wins. Our goal is to improve day by day. I know it’s a cliche, but it’s what we need to do. We’d like to have a winning record. But we need to be focused on our effort, be physical and take care of the football. If we do those things, things like records and wins will take care of themselves.”
And that’s exactly what happened.
Despite losing the previous year’s leading rusher Josh Wills (1,469 yards, 19 touchdowns in 2015), who transferred to Wayne for his senior year, the Bees recovered from a three-game losing streak in the middle of the season to finish on a four-game winning streak, posting a 7-3 record and narrowly missing earning a spot in the postseason.
It all began in Week 1, when the Bees faced Northridge — a team that beat them in the opener by one point the year before, basically costing them that winning season. In a lightning-delayed season opener, the Bees built a 20-0 lead after one quarter when play was stopped for the night. But Bethel continued to roll the next morning, leading 48-0 by halftime and putting away a dominant 54-6 win over the Polar Bears to start the year.
Bethel followed that with a 63-6 win over Mississinawa Valley, which finished the season winless, leading up to a Week 3 showdown with Dayton Christian. Both teams were unbeaten at the time, and the Warriors struck first. But Noah Burrowes tied the score on a 5-yard run and Nate Rimkus broke an 85-yard run before being caught at the 1, scoring one play later to make the score 14-7 Bethel at the half. Jacob Evans added one last touchdown and two-point conversion, giving the Bees a 22-15 victory.
“I’ve been telling the kids all week that we still have doubters,” Clodfelter said. “We had two big wins, not a lot of pressure. We’ve had battles with Dayton Christian whenever we’ve played them. We definitely needed that. We needed to win a close game. It’s definitely a good win for us.”
But the next three games proved too tough for the Bees. A 48-7 loss at Covington — which won the regular season poll championship in Division VII and was the top seed in the Region 28 playoffs — began a three-game losing streak, all of which were Cross County Conference games. And in Week 5 against Tri-County North, Bethel trailed by only two at 15-13 in the second quarter, but the Panthers pulled away for a 36-19 win.
Week 6’s matchup at Miami East was a competitive game, but the Bees couldn’t overcome turnovers — including one in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter — in a 28-14 loss.
“We lost five turnovers,” Clodfelter said after the game. “We were down 21-14 with about two minutes left, had a chance to tie — and we fumbled the ball away for the fifth time. If we can clean up those turnovers, maybe this game is a different result.”
But Bethel recovered from that run, finishing the season with four straight impressive wins. The Bees defeated Twin Valley South 30-15, shut out National Trail 21-0 and routed Ansonia 49-14 to clinch a winning season. And they weren’t done there, defeating Arcanum 30-28 on the road — a win sealed by Ian Anderson’s block of a game-winning field goal attempt in the game’s final seconds — in the season finale to finish 7-3 and possibly put them in line for a playoff spot, depending on how second-level points between then and West Liberty shook out.
“It’s bittersweet,” Clodfelter said that night. “A guy that had never kicked a field goal in his life (senior Tyler Terry) kicked the winning field goal for us tonight. They got to our 10 with about 15 seconds left, and Ian Anderson blocked it. We’d just gotten a really huge win, and we’re trying to enjoy that, but we’re also thinking about making the playoffs.”
The next morning, the results were official — Bethel finished in ninth place in the Division VI, Region 24 standings with 9.9217 points, while West Liberty grabbed the eighth and final playoff spot with 10.6 points, despite a 6-4 record. The Tigers were blasted by top-seeded and eventual state champion Marion Local 34-7 in the first round of the playoffs.
The Bees finished fourth in the CCC standings behind Covington, Miami East and Tri-County North. And though they are preparing to take the next step forward in the 2017 season, things will look very, very different in their playoff region.
Thanks to the OHSAA’s competitive balance realigning the divisions, the Bees will remain in D-VI, Region 24 — but it will basically be a whole new division. Gone will be county rival Miami East, which moves up to D-V, Region 20, as do Purcell Marian and Summit Country Day, as well as Triad, which moves down to D-VII.
Moving up from D-VII, Region 28 are two other county rivals, Covington and Troy Christian, as well as 2015’s D-VII state champion, Fort Recovery. And moving down from D-V, Region 20 will be Coldwater — which won four straight D-V state championships before finishing as the state runner-up in 2016 — as well as Northeastern and Deer Park. Last year’s D-VI state champion, Marion Local, will also remain in the region, making it arguably the toughest small-school playoff region in all of Ohio.
The third year may have been the charm in ways, but what will the fourth bring?
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.