By Josh Brown
BRANDT — A new coach, a young team with plenty of potential.
The Bethel football team began 2014 with a lot to look forward to — and even more to look forward to in the future, given who the new coach was.
But one of the things Scott Clodfelter said before the season even began that could trip up the team in short term was injuries, and that’s exactly what happened down the stretch as the Bees’ already-small roster was thinned out even more during the grind of the 10-game season — particularly over a brutal four-game stretch in the middle of the year in back-to-back-to-back games against the Cross County Conference’s playoff teams.
Clodfelter previously coached at Beavercreek High School where over the course of a few seasons he took a program that rarely ever won more than two games in a season and turned it into one of the Greater Western Ohio Conference’s better teams. And even in the preseason, Clodfelter knew that patience would be required.
“We did change the culture at Beavercreek — and it did take a couple of years,” he said. “I have to remind myself that it does take time. I expect us to do well and compete during the season, but going from a school like that to Bethel, there are some things to get used to.”
Key among those things was the size of the roster, going from a Division I school to a D-VI one.
“The biggest thing is numbers,” Clodfelter said. “Depth is a concern at a smaller school. If you have a couple kids go down, you’re in trouble. It’s one of the biggest adjustments I’ve had to make.”
All things considered, the Bees hit the ground running — literally.
In the opener against visiting Northridge, Bethel racked up more than 300 yards on the ground, with senior quarterback Mason Kretzer and sophomore running back Josh Wills each scoring twice in a convincing 30-6 victory over the Polar Bears. Despite their youth at many key positions, the Bees played without nerves and executed.
“We’re playing a lot of freshmen and sophomores, and Northridge is a big and fast team. I was proud of how the guys responded and played,” Clodfelter said.
That trend continued in Week 2 against Mississinawa Valley in a 23-13 victory — the team’s fourth straight win dating back to the previous year. Wills rushed for 132 yards and two touchdowns, while senior Kurt Hamlin kicked a 30-yard field goal in the fourth quarter to give the Bees a two-score lead to hold onto.
And in Week 3, the Bees scored their most impressive win yet, upending Middletown Christian 14-8 by scoring two first-half touchdowns and holding on from there. Middletown Christian — a late replacement on the schedule for Bradford, which did not field a varsity team — finished the season a respectable 5-5.
Week 4 began Bethel’s toughest stretch of the year, though, and it was a string of games that the Bees would not be able to recover from.
CCC rival Covington played host to the Bees, but they also played a long game of keep-away, dominating time of possession by holding onto the ball for more than three quarters’ worth of the game in a 41-7 victory.
Bethel remained relatively close at halftime with the score 27-7 and began driving in the third, but an interception at the Covington 7-yard line killed that drive — and any hopes of a comeback the Bees had.
“We did some things pretty well,” Clodfelter said. “We actually ended up moving the ball through the air, and our quarterback (Jacob Evans) is just a freshman. He’s going to be a good quarterback. He just needs experience — which is what we don’t have a lot of across the board. But we’re moving in the right direction toward the kind of program we want to be.”
The next week, the Bees faced eventual CCC champion Tri-County North, and the Panthers cruised to a 48-7 victory. And while the Bethel defense kept Miami East in check early, the offense couldn’t get going and the Vikings eventually wore the Bees down and pulled away for a 42-7 win to even the Bees’ record at 3-3 on the year — with all three of those losses coming at the hands of eventual playoff teams.
The Bees were then shut out in Week 7 31-0 by Twin Valley South, the Panthers’ sixth straight win at the time out of an eventual seven. And while the Bees were more competitive in a 35-21 Week 8 loss to National Trail, the injuries and wear of the season had already taken a toll.
That left two more games, and Bethel poured everything it had left into its Week 9 effort against Ansonia — particularly Wills. The sophomore scored four touchdowns — including a 5-yard run with 8:12 to play that cut the Tigers’ lead to two, but Ansonia was able to hold on for a 27-25 victory and hand the Bees their sixth straight loss. Bethel simply didn’t have anything left in Week 10, falling in the finale 41-14 at Arcanum.
But with so many young plays gaining valuable experience, the Bees will look to turn things around once again in 2015. The biggest challenge may once again be simply staying healthy enough to maintain their effort for a full 10 weeks.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.