By Josh Brown
BRANDT — Since Scott Clodfelter took over the Bethel football program in 2014, the Bees have improved at a steady rate each season.
The 2017 campaign is going to be a tough act to follow, though.
Bethel had a year for the ages in 2017, posting a 9-1 record in the regular season and finishing as the runner-up in the Cross County Conference behind only Miami East — the team that handed the Bees their lone regular-season loss. All of that was good enough to put Bethel in the playoffs for the first time since 2001, where the Bees’ season ended at Coldwater in the opening round.
After a three-win season in Clodfelter’s first year, Bethel got back to the .500 mark in 2015, posted its first winning season since 2010 at 7-3 in 2016 — and then took it one step even further last year.
“We had a great season, and we’ve just kept getting better,” Coldfelter said. “This is my fourth year at Bethel, and we’ve went from three wins to five to seven and now to nine. It’s really a testament to our seniors now from when I first got there.
“‘Bought in’ is kind of an overused phrase, but they did buy in to what we were doing. We weren’t throwing the ball and being cute and fancy, watching Sportscenter and doing what the pros do. We went back to old-school, physical, run-the-ball football and playing good defense — and that still wins in high school and every level of football in my opinion. That’s a hard sell sometimes now with the way the game is played now, but I’m proud of the seniors for doing that when they were younger and sticking to it.”
The Bees did so by dominating with its triple-option offense, outscoring opponents by an average score of 49-13.5 during the regular season. The defense also posted a pair of shutouts during the year and only truly struggled twice — in the losses to strong Miami East and Coldwater teams.
“What we do is hard to stop, and the kids have executed very well all season,” Clodfelter said. “When you go to one of our practices, there’s no questions. You just go. We don’t reinvent the wheel or anything. We do what we do, and we do it well. If we lose and that team was better than us, we accept it. That’s our philosophy, and we’re excited to be in the position that we’re in.”
The season began with a 63-22 blowout at Northridge — the only game other than their two losses that the Bees gave up more than 20 points in. Week 2, however, was arguably the Bees’ biggest victory as they knocked off Dayton Christian in dominant fashion, 45-15. The Warriors also posted a 9-1 regular season record and eventually qualified for the Division VI, Region 24 playoffs along with Bethel. The Bees then finished off the three-game road trip to begin the season with a 64-14 rout at Tri-Village to open CCC play.
In its home opener, Bethel trounced Ansonia 52-6 to go into the matchup against Miami East on a four-game winning streak. But a slow start doomed the Bees as the Vikings scored 22 straight points to begin the game, and even though Bethel did fight back, East maintained that edge and put away a 50-29 victory.
“It’s just one out of 10 games,” Clodfelter said after the game. ” I thought our kids played hard, and we didn’t have any quit in us. Miami East is a good program. This showed us the things we need to work on to reach our goals, and I know we can do it. We just did a poor job executing our gameplan, but we’ll be better next week. All this means is that we’re not going to be undefeated.”
Bethel bounced back with a 52-0 shutout at Arcanum in Week 6 before traveling to face another conference rival, Covington, in Week 7. The Bees themselves may argue that their win over the Buccaneers was their biggest of the season, as Bethel posted its first victory over Covington since 2004, holding on for a gritty 12-7 win.
“We are very happy,” Clodfelter said. “That’s one thing (beating Covington for the first time since 2004) — but if you go back more, it’s probably only the second time in the last 40 years. Our defense played great. We had four or five goal-line stands in the second half. We just kept making plays. Offensively, we struggled a little. We did move the ball, but we bogged down by the goal line a couple times. And then Jacob Ullmer had an interception on the goal line with 30 seconds left to seal the win. It was a great win for us.”
From there, the Bees coasted in their final three regular season games, defeating Tri-County North 51-15 and Bradford 63-0 at home, then finishing on the road with a 56-6 Week 10 win at Mississinawa Valley to wrap up a playoff spot for the first time since 2001.
But 2017 was a special year for D-VI, Region 24, as the OHSAA’s realignment in the offseason had made it arguably the strongest small-school division in the state of Ohio. Bethel earned the No. 5 seed with its 9-1 record, drawing a daunting road game in the opening round at the No. 4 seed, 7-3 Coldwater. The Cavaliers stepped down from D-V, where it had a string of state championships from 2012-15 and finished as the state runner-up in 2016.
Coldwater ended the Bees’ season with a 42-7 win before falling in the regional championship game to eventual undefeated D-VI state champion Marion Local.
And though 2017 will be a difficult act to follow in 2018 — and the Bees graduated a large, talented senior class — Clodfelter, who was named the Southwest District Coach of the Year following the 2017 season, has his system in place now, and Bethel will be ready to keep working to improve this season.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.