When the dust settled on No. 8 Bethel’s 35-30 win against No. 3 Lakes in Lakewood on Friday night in a battle of two top-10 teams from the 3A PCL, it felt like a long time coming for the Braves’ program. While the talent pool has been there the past couple of years, it always felt like Bethel was one or two steps away. Could it all be coming together for the Braves? It certainly feels like it. Here are five takeaways from week six of the high school football season in the South Sound (and this week, beyond).
STATEMENT WIN FOR BETHEL
Bethel opened the season with a 32-27 loss to Kennedy Catholic, a top-five 4A team, and a 27-14 loss to O’Dea, which could very well wind up being the No. 1 team in Class 3A after a stunning win over No. 1 Eastside Catholic on Friday night.
Bethel was in both games until late, but wasn’t able to close them out. In the leadup to Friday night’s game against Lakes, the theme all week in practice from coach Mark Iddins was finishing.
“This is another top-five program,” Iddins said. “You have to win these games if you want to make the deep runs. We’ve always been just one play or one step away. To finish is a huge thing. That’s what we’ve been talking about all week.”
Oregon commit Peter Latu, who caught seven passes for 92 yards and rushed nine times for 35 yards in the win, said the Bethel players know they’ve had the talent to win tight games like Friday night’s.
“We have it,” he said. “We know we have it. We just have to use it as a team. We talk about it every day at practice. We all have the talent. Every other team is going to have talent but there’s only 11 people that can be on the field. So if we use our 11 talents, we’re driving.”
While Bethel may have faltered in the face of adversity last year, when Lakes came out swinging in the second quarter, outscoring Bethel 18-7, Bethel stood its ground.
Bethel open the third quarter with a 19 play, 78-yard drive that consumed 9 minutes and 5 seconds felt like a beautiful blast from the past.
Football is a game of rhythm, and keeping a good offense off the field for that long is enough to disrupt that rhythm.
“That was huge,” said Bethel quarterback Kekoa Visperas, who completed 15-of-22 passes for 174 yards and two touchdowns. “That set the tone for the rest of the game. We knew that if we got that drive, we have the game sealed.”
While many coaches have abandoned the idea of racking up time of possession, for Bethel, it’s a crucial part of the team’s strategy.
“It’s very important,” Iddins said. “Especially when you’re playing against the better teams and the better defenses, it’s real tough to just air raid all the time. In high school football, you have five or six guys going both ways. So when those guys get tired in the second half, it hurts us. Our goal is to win the game. Our stats may not be off the charts but the only stat that matters is the win. We got that.”
NO SHORTAGE OF TALENT FOR BRAVES
Coming in clutch down the stretch, Visperas looks like a natural leader at quarterback for the Braves in his first season with Bethel. He completed his last seven pass attempts of the game for 84 yards and two touchdowns, leading the team to the win.
“The minute I walked into the program, they just treated me like family and I knew this was home,” Visperas said. “It wasn’t hard at all. They came in and welcomed me like I was one of them.”
Iddins said Visperas has been a positive presence for the Braves.
“He brings a ton,” Iddins said. “His leadership is great. He’s got a great arm, he’s made some great plays. He’s getting better every week. It allows us to move our best athletes out to receiver. It’s been a huge piece for us.”
Peter Latu had a bight night, catching seven passes for 92 yards and rushing nine times for 35 yards in the win. Younger brother Will Latu rushed for 42 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. Senior Pula Sokimi caught three passes for 41 yards and a touchdown, and also was a perfect passer on the night, completing his lone pass for a 61-yard touchdown to teammate Cameron Parker on a trick play. Parker, meanwhile, had two catches for 68 yards, both of which went for touchdowns.
And on defense, Bethel’s defensive line, with guys like Mekhi Frink, Markus Grubbs, Davauntae Holden and others were relentless, limiting Lakes’ running backs to just 52 yards on 19 carries. Counting sacks, Lakes was held to just 22 net rushing yards on the night.
“They’re a big running team,” said Bethel defensive lineman Mekhi Frink. “They wanted to put that out there and run down our throats and we were just able to shut them down.”
Iddins said the entire defense had a good night.
“It was great,” he said. “We knew we had to stop the run with them and force them to pass the ball. Our guys did a great job and they got after the quarterback. Our (defensive backs), we left them on an island at times and they played great, like they have all year.”
3A PCL IS LOADED
With three top-10 teams in The Associated Press poll coming into the week, the 3A PCL is one of the toughest leagues in the state, at least at the top. Lakes came into the game ranked third in Class 3A, fourth-ranked Lincoln breezed by Stadium, 56-7 on Friday night and Bethel came into the game ranked eighth.
Lakes is the league’s reigning champion, but after Bethel’s win on Friday night, it could be a different story this season. The final two weeks of the regular season should be fascinating, beginning with a matchup between Lincoln and Lakes on Oct. 25 and concluding with a Bethel trip to Lincoln Bowl on Nov. 1. The league title will be decided somewhere in there and all three teams have the potential to make some noise in the state tournament.
NO. 2 O’DEA STUNS NO. 1 EASTSIDE CATHOLIC
No, this isn’t news from the South Sound, but the biggest game of the state on Friday night delivered, with O’Dea dishing up a 28-6 win over the defending state champions and the No. 11 team in the country, per MaxPreps.com.
Many assumed Eastside Catholic would run the table, and why shouldn’t they? No team in the state has more talent or more highly touted recruiting prospects. O’Dea won in typical Monte Kohler fashion, rushing 54 times for 257 yards and much like Bethel, controlling time of possession and keeping Eastside Catholic’s high-flying offense off the field.
For teams like Bethel, which uses a similar strategy to O’Dea in regards to time of possession (albeit not quite as run-heavy), O’Dea’s win is nothing but great news. For a team many thought was invincible, maybe there are some vulnerabilities for the top-ranked Crusaders. Maybe the Class 3A state tournament won’t be a foregone conclusion, after all.
While Eastside Catholic and O’Dea are still the favorites, things open up a bit now for teams like Lincoln, Lakes and Bethel.
BIG WEEK LOOMING IN LOCAL LEAGUES
The 3A South Sound Conference title could be on the line in Gig Harbor next week, with Yelm (4-2 overall, 4-0 SSC) paying a visit to Roy Anderson Field to face Peninsula (4-2, 4-0) at 7 p.m. on Friday (Oct. 18). Peninsula is coming off a 27-7 win over Central Kitsap on Friday night. Bruising running back Sean Skladany rushed 22 times for 109 yards and a touchdown in the win. Yelm, meanwhile, coasted to a 57-0 win over North Thurston. Offensively, the Tornados have been on fire, averaging 49.3 points in their last three games, while their opponents have averaged just 12.7 points in that span.
There’s also an intriguing matchup in the 2A SPSL, with league-favorite Steilacoom (4-2, 2-0) hosting Eatonville (4-2, 2-0), which is coming off back-to-back wins over River Ridge and Foster. While Steilacoom is a different beast offensively than either of those teams, Eatonville’s offense is no slouch, either, averaging 46.3 points in its last three games, led by do-it-all quarterback Caden Jumper.