By Josh Brown
CASSTOWN — Miami East and Bethel both had plenty to prove entering Week 5.
For the Vikings, it was all about bouncing back from last week’s tough loss to Fort Loramie.
For the Bees, though, it wasn’t just about last week’s loss to Ansonia. It was also about last year’s 50-29 shellacking at the hands of East — Bethel’s only regular-season loss last year.
In the end, Miami East’s fast start aided by a pair of opportunistic first-half turnovers — as well as three touchdowns by both Vincent Villella and Justin Brown on the night — gave the Vikings enough of a cushion to build on the rest of the night with a 14-point halftime lead, enough to survive Jacob Ullmer’s four-touchdown performance for a 52-28 Cross County Conference victory Thursday night at Miami East.
With the win, Miami East improved to 4-1 and 2-1 in the CCC, while Bethel dropped its second straight, falling to 3-2 and 1-2 in the CCC.
“Like I told the boys, at times it wasn’t that pretty, but at times it was real pretty,” Miami East coach Max Current said. “Offensively, we had some explosiveness back that we were kind of lacking last week (against Fort Loramie). That was good to see. Plus we were a little beat up coming into the game, and it was good to see some of the younger guys step in, rise to the occasion and do a nice job for us.”
For the Vikings, it was Brown’s first-half playmaking from all over the field that led to the big advantage.
After both teams’ opening possessions ended in three-and-outs, the Vikings got another stop and Brown returned a punt 350 yards to the Bethel 22. Four plays later, Vincent Villella cashed in the short field on a 3-yard touchdown plunge to put East up 7-0 with 6:01 remaining in the first quarter.
On the second play of the Bees’ ensuing drive, Ullmer threw what appeared to be an incomplete pass — but the ball did not travel forward, and Brown scooped up the fumble and ran it in for a 25-yard score to make it 14-0 Vikings at the 5:24 mark of the opening quarter.
“That defensive score was big,” Current said. “They threw that pass behind the line, Justin had his wits about him, scooped and scored. That was a big play. Anytime you get a defensive score, it’s a big play.”
One more three-and-out forced by the Viking defense set up another short field at the Bethel 44. The Vikings then put together a seven-play scoring drive capped off by a 4-yard touchdown pass from Ian Gengler to Hunter Gross to give East a 21-0 lead with 1:07 still on the first-quarter clock.
“In the first quarter, we had that lateral turn into a touchdown and got down 14-0 quick, and we just did not do anything offensively in the first quarter,” Bethel coach Scott Clodfelter said. “But we did get some momentum going in the second quarter.”
Bethel finally got moving near the end of the quarter, only to have Brown make a leaping interception at the Viking 10-yard line and return it just past midfield. East couldn’t do anything with it, though, punting and pinning the Bees on their own 7. But three plays into the drive, Ullmer bounced off the pile in the middle and found an opening for a 40-yard run — with a personal foul penalty on the end of it setting the Bees up at the Viking 14. Two plays after that, Ullmer got around the edge on a 9-yard touchdown run to put Bethel on the board with 6:22 left in the half, trailing 21-7.
But Brown once again had the answer, taking the first play of the ensuing possession down the sideline 57 yards for a score, giving the Vikings a three-score lead again with 6:05 remaining until halftime.
The Bees used nearly all of that time on the final drive of the half, going 80 yards in 17 plays — including drawing the Vikings offsides on a fourth-and-4 to keep the drive alive and then two more standard third-down conversions. In the end, Ullmer scored on a 1-yard touchdown run with :03 seconds on the clock to make the score 28-14 at the break.
A 52-yard run by Villella on the opening possession of the third quarter led to a 28-yard field goal by Wes Sutherly to put the Vikings up 31-14 at the 8:21 mark. But Bethel was able to answer yet again, this time with a 35-yard touchdown run by Ullmer to bring the Bees to with 10 at 31-21 with 6:44 left in the third.
“I was proud of our kids, really proud of how hard we played,” Clodfelter said. “Down 31-21 with six minutes to go in the third quarter, after being down 21-0 to bring it back to within 10, that shows you the type of players we have here at Bethel.”
That was as close as Bethel would get, though. Villella scored on a 15-yard run up the middle with 3:06 left in the third to make the score 38-21 after three, then Brown broke a 43-yard touchdown straight up the gut to give the Vikings a 45-21 lead with 7:59 to play.
Bethel wasn’t done, though, as Ullmer broke a 47-yard touchdown run — his third of the night — with 5:27 left to play to cut the deficit to 45-28. But Villella drove home one final touchdown with 1:16 left, plunging in from 3 yards out for his fourth score of the night to make the score 52-28, and the Vikings put it away from there.
“We had that nice cushion, but they got it to within 10 there in the second half,” Current said. “I was glad to see that we answered their scores. That’s something we always strive for, answer their scores and get it back to where it was.”
Villella finished with 158 yards and three touchdowns runs on 19 carries, while Brown had 10 carries for 153 yards and two scores in addition to his fumble recovery for a TD.
“They make a good one-two punch,” Current said. “Start taking one away and the other reaps the benefits. They’ve both got big-play capability every time they touch the ball, and they both had nice games tonight.”
Ullmer, meanwhile, finished with 246 of the Bees’ 359 yards on the night.
“Jacob played a great game tonight,” Clodfelter said. “He ran the option very well, his reads were spot on. He’s a natural runner and is really shifty — he can cut going full speed, and that’s why he’s so shifty. He’s always been a solid runner, and he showed it tonight. And East is a good team — to have a night like that against them is very impressive.”
Miami East kicks off the second half off the season at rival Covington in Week 6.
“This is a big stretch of games for us, and it sets things up for the league title and should we be fortunate enough to make Week 11. This is a big three-week stretch,” Current said. “We’ve got to enjoy tonight, and then we’ve got to get focused on the Men in Black. That’s always a big battle, and they’re a good football team.”
Bethel, meanwhile, will look to snap its skid at home against Arcanum.
“I’m really proud of how we played tonight,” Clodfelter said. “We played hard. Now we’ve got to move on and get ready for next week.”
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.