“Tonight, our good traits were on display,” Bellbrook head coach Kevin Basinger explained after the game. “Our team has character, there is no doubt about that. They’re a bunch of characters. They can frustrate you, but when it gets down to it they made the plays in the end that make a coach look good. They find ways to win even though we certainly didn’t look good doing it.”
The win improved Bellbrook to 5-4 overall and 4-1 in the SWBL. The loss was Oakwood’s third straight after a 6-0 start. The Jacks are 4-2 in the league.
The turning point came in the final seven minutes.
It was fourth-and-four from near midfield with just 6:58 left in the game and Basinger was getting impatient. Trailing 13-7, he called timeout, ran onto the field, and flailed his arms wildly. Then he read the riot act to his team and they responded. Senior Ryan Rutledge took the ensuing snap, rolled left, calmly checked through his progressions, and then tucked the ball under his arm.
Thirty-five yards later there was no need for a measurement – first-and-goal Bellbrook. Two plays after that Rutledge scored on a six-yard quarterback keeper and the Eagles took a 14-13 lead.
Things could have gone differently for the Golden Eagles and they had to look no further than the experiences of the Lumberjacks to see the proof. In the first half, Oakwood had first-and-goal twice only to have to settle for a pair of 22-yard field goals.
Converting in the red zone matters.
“If we would have scored touchdowns instead of settling for field goals, that would have helped out a lot,” a disappointed Chris Hardy said from just outside a very quiet Oakwood locker room. “It could have been 21-7 instead of 13-7. So, if you are looking for excuses there’s your excuse. We could have won anyway. We should have won. No excuses. Now our backs are against the wall.”
The players in the other locker room had a different perspective.
“Our offensive line did a great job tonight as did Ryan (Rutledge),” senior running back Jared Edwards said. “He’s a serious threat on offense and he makes my job easy. Once he goes somewhere he takes the defense with him.”
Rutledge attributed the win to a recent emphasis on fundamentals in practice.
“We’ve been working on it (ball security) all week. We can’t turn the ball over and expect to play like we want to play. The coaches made it clear to me at least that if we want to win ball games we have to keep the ball in our hands.”
Next week, Bellbrook hosts Milton-Union (8-1, 4-1 SWBL) in a regular season finale for all of the marbles. The Golden Eagles have beaten Milton in each of the last two years.
“Defensively we’ve been playing great but offensively we’re not at our peak,” Basinger said. “We need to find our strut again, but I’ll take it tonight. We were one and three. We could have bagged the season right there, but our kids have hung tough.
“Now we are playing for the league title and a chance to go to the playoffs. The main thing we talked about is that we want to win the league. That has been our goal all along. And we just have to hope the other stuff all works out. We have to play a great game next week against the Bulldogs.”
If you revel in parity the new SWBL is the place for you.
“The league is really balanced. A play here or a play there and things could be completely different. Everybody has a pretty good quarterback, there are lots of good running backs, and everyone’s defenses seem to be playing well. Everyone is very similar. Before the season started, we felt in our hearts that we had a chance to be the frontrunner, but in truth they are all such good teams–and next week is for the title.”
The big story in the league this year might be how Bellbrook has handled adversity and prevailed.
“We gave up a bunch of points early (in the year), but since then our defense has been improving. We’ve consistently made plays and it shows in our record. I thought our linebackers—(Cody) Fyffe, (Kevin) Swallow, and (Zach) York–played well tonight. Our defensive line was solid, and Brian Sager made a big interception. On offense, we started to be able to predict their slant, and that lead to us being able to block more effectively.
“In general, our running and our tackling are much better and we have stopped turning the ball over,” the coach said walking slowly towards the bus. “Now it is the penalties that are killing us. So, we still have a lot of things to work on.”