BRANDT — The weather, crisp with a light breeze, was perfect for football as Bethel hosted Mississinawa Valley, but the game was far from perfect for the Blackhawks.
The Bethel Bees received the opening kickoff. Dominating the trenches, they marched right down the field and scored on a four-play, 61-yard drive. The Mississinawa Blackhawks responded with a rush for -3 yards, a rush for -7 yards then an interception thrown for a touchdown. Within two minutes, Bethel had a 14-0 lead.
On the next drive it only got worse for Mississinawa Valley. Each rushing gain was followed with a loss, and the only first down of the drive was picked up by a personal foul penalty. Once quarterback Trent Collins, who would face constant pressure in the pocket all evening, was sacked, Mississinawa was forced to punt.
Each Mississinawa Valley turnover or punt was matched by Bethel touchdowns. Closing in on the later minutes of the second quarter, Mississinawa had turned the ball over three times, and punted another five times while Bethel had scored a total of eight touchdowns—three on the ground, four through the air and one on defense.
“I feel like our eyes were wide open—a deer in headlights kind of stunned by their speed. Our feet looked like they were in concrete,” first-year head coach Mike Griffin said on his team’s first half performance. “We acted like we didn’t know what to do, but they didn’t run anything we didn’t prepare for.”
Although Coach Griffin was proud of his sophomore quarterback, he also was confident the quarterback’s decision making would improve once the game slowed for him with more experience.
“Game No. 2, he (Collins) hasn’t played since junior-high—speed coming at him—he had some wide open and made some bad passes,” Griffin said. “It happens when you got a young guy in there playing quarterback for his second start.”
It would be simple to call it a tale of two halves, in the traditional sense, but the second half Mississinawa Valley Blackhawks seemed like a different unit.
Just after halftime, the defense lead by linebacker Nate Gladdish refused to allow Bethel to walk all over them again. Bethel came out and chunked its way down the field, compiling 54 rushing yards on their first eight carries. Once the Bees were a yard away from scoring their ninth touchdown, Mississinawa stepped it up. On first and goal, Bethel ran for -1 yards, on second and goal quarterback Jacob Evans was sacked by Gladdish, on third and goal Bethel couldn’t gain a single yard, and on fourth and goal Gladdish finished the drive with another sack on Evans.
“Nate’s (Gladdish) one of our leaders,” Griffin said. “He runs hard, and he has some things to learn. No one was perfect tonight—not even myself.”
While no one was perfect the entire night, Mississinawa Valley was poised to learn from its early mistakes.
Gladdish wasn’t satisfied with his impressive stand on defense. After stopping Bethel, Mississinawa Valley marched down the field on a 90-yard drive — the bulk of the carries by Gladdish, who was starting to take over the field.
After a few passes from Collins to Kyler Mote for 37 yards and Brandon Beanblossom for 11 yards, the Blackhawks took to the ground inside the red zone and let Gladdish finish what he’d started on the other side of the field with a punishing 1-yard touchdown up the middle. While the game may have been out of reach, Mississinawa played hungry and determined to start the second half.
“I told them (at halftime) ‘I don’t care about the scoreboard,’” Griffin said. “This is a building process. Mississinawa hasn’t won a lot of games, and this is my first year here as a head coach. It’s not gonna happen overnight. They had a better attitude and had more fight in them the second half. And that’s what I want out my guys — just to fight.”
The game ended with a 63-6 Bethel victory, but the first-year head coach wasn’t down on his team.
“We just gotta get it fixed — get guys to keep fighting. We’ll get it turned around. I’m going to stay positive. I didn’t like our attitude the first half; the second half we came out and we played a little harder. I told them I was disappointed in their effort the first half, and they kind of responded to that, actually, so, I was glad to see it.”
While the score was an ocean apart, Mississinawa Valley has a first half of game film to watch to learn its errors, and a second half to see its potential.
Mississinawa Valley fell to 0-2 overall and 0-1 in the Cross County Conference. The Blackhawks play host to undefeated Covington on Friday.