BETHEL – The Bethel Wildcats played two different halves of football in their season opener at home against Luther Friday night that ended in a 60-26 loss.
The first half was unpolished and full of mistakes that snowballed as time slowly marched on. The final 24 minutes displayed a team with more heart and confidence that gave new head coach Joey Ginn what he was looking for from his young crew.
“I'm proud of our young guys, I felt like they battled in the second half. A lot of guys got their first varsity action tonight so I'm proud of the way they came in,” he said.
The Wildcats trailed 53-6 after the first half but after allowing Luther one more tochdown with 8:08 left in the third, something flipped.
The defense started getting things done as senior Blaine Blaire recorded a sack and freshman LW Moore recovered a fumble to give Bethel possession shortly before the fourth.
They marched downfield following Moore's recovery and though they were stopped at the one-yard-line the defense kept going fast and hard to force Luther into a quick punt on third and 12 from the one to get the ball back on the Luther 27.
They again found themselves at fourth and goal on the one, but this time sophomore Devin Acklin pounded a run in to end the scoring drought with 6:50 to go.
Freshman Jesse Tucker ran another in from five yards out to make it a 60-18 game, the Wildcats recovered a fumble on Luther's return to get the ball back and freshman Dez Loving put up a 29-yard blast and was pushed into the left pylon to score the final touchdown of the game with 1:34 to go. Gunner Smith ran in the conversion.
Smith connected with senior Peyton Barney for a 27-yard touchdown reception with 6:49 left in the first quarter, but it was the only lead that the Wildcats had throughout the game. The scoring play was set up on an interception by Acklin on Luther's second drive of the game.
Loving led the Wildcats rushing with five carries for 45 yards and a touchdown, Barney had 24 yards on four carries and Tucker had three carries for 21 yards. Junior Matthew Melter had four carries for 10 yards before leaving the game with an injury in the first half but isn't expected to be out for long.
“Payton Barney, senior stepped up, he hadn't worked tailback. Tonight when Matt Melter goes down he had to work tailback, so it was a good thing for us.”
Barney recorded 76 yards receiving on four completions and Acklin had three receptions for 39 yards.
Smith was 11-18 for 130 yards through the air and Tucker was 1-3 with for 10 yards passing.
Cole Dyer, Moore, Melter and Blaire each recorded a sack.
Ginn was proud of how his team responded in the second half when they could have been down on themselves and will use the lessons learned from the game to better both the players and coaches.
“Now we have something that we can build from,” he said. “What do we need to improve on, find those improvements and go from there,” Ginn said.
The Wildcats (0-1) will make a short road excursion to Tecumseh next week for the Savages' season opener and will travel to Oktaha on September 8. They will return to Bethel September 15, for their homecoming game against Mount St. Mary.