Mark Iddins was in the same boat as most every other onlooker of this Bethel High School football team.
“Trust me, it’s even taken some convincing for us coaches,” Iddins said. “We knew we had some good players, but it’s taken us believing we’re as good as we can be.”
Now the Braves are proving they have what it takes to sit among the top teams in the 3A Pierce County League, improving to 5-1 with a shootout of a 38-35 victory against Stadium on Friday at Stadium Bowl.
Cameren Schweyn made an 18-yard field goal to give Bethel its first lead of the game with 25 seconds to play.
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And now Bethel already has more wins than all of last year when it was the last team out of the four PCL schools (Lincoln, Bonney Lake, Lakes, Stadium) to make the district playoffs.
Josh Walker didn’t play on that team. He missed all of last season with a broken ankle, and on Friday the junior running back had 225 all-purpose yards and scored four touchdowns. He ran for 153 yards on 21 carries.
And after throwing for six touchdowns last week, first-year starting quarterback Nate Hughes tossed four more TDs on Friday as Bethel rallied from a 35-21 second-half deficit.
“Honestly, it’s the craziest game I’ve ever played,” Hughes said. “I’ve never played in a game like that. The second half, man – craziest game.”
Stadium looked like it was going to never not score a touchdown. It scored on every possession in a frantic first quarter and Nazje Briscoe had rushed for more than 100 yards by early in the second. He finished with 22 carries for 157 yards with both of his touchdowns – including a 54-yarder – coming in the first quarter.
Stadium recovered a Bethel fumble and Tigers quarterback hit Xavier Mason for a 21-yard TD to give Stadium a 28-14 lead midway through the second quarter.
Bethel answered with a 44-yard TD pass from Hughes to Walker with 45 seconds remaining in the half. But Stadium got the ball at midfield after an onside kick attempt and went up 35-21 with 12 seconds remaining on Wendling’s third TD pass.
“This is the best running back, best quarterback, best group of receivers we’ve faced,” Iddins said.
So the key was making sure that offense couldn’t get back on the field.
Stadium beat Bonney Lake with less than a minute to play last week on a game-winning TD pass from Wendling to Mason – just after Bonney Lake had taken a 17-14 lead on a field goal.
But the Tigers only had 20 seconds remaining at their 36-yard-line after Bethel’s go-ahead field goal after the Braves shut out the Tigers’ offense in the second half.
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“This is a big step for our team,” Iddins said. “We wanted to see how tough we were, especially when times got tough. Because when times have got tough in the past, our guys have fallen apart a little bit.
“This was a great game because it was two programs on the rise. We could kind of see how is taking the next step – and I think both programs are – but this was a huge step for us.”
Wendling completed 16 of 27 passes for 222 yards for Stadium (4-2) and Mason had eight catches for 94 yards.
Bethel tied the game at 35-35 when Walker caught his second TD pass with 3:49 remaining in the third quarter.
Walker spoke afterward of the Braves’ team chemistry. Most of the players are involved in a SnapChat messaging group the team has, Walker said, and they talked about what was going to come of this season after losing a big lead against Lincoln for Bethel’s only loss on Sept. 15.
“We were saying that after that game, we’re going to finish the (regular) season 9-1,” Walker said. “We talked to the coaches, talked in the group chat – just go 9-1.
“Like I said before the game, a family is going to beat a team, no matter what they do. We just got to come together and win it, and we did.”
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677
S – Nazje Briscoe 5 run (Rodrigo Dos Santos kick)
B – Josh Walker 12 run (Cameren Schweyn kick)
S – Briscoe 54 run (Dos Santos kick)
B – Machiah Lee 3 pass from Nate Hughes (Schweyn kick)
S – Dylan Hartman 45 pass from Hunter Wendling (Dos Santos kick)
S – Mason 21 pass from Wendling (Dos Santos kick)
B – Walker 44 pass from Hughes (Schweyn kick)
S – P-nut Harris 17 pass from Wendling (Dos Santos kick)
B – Walker 21 pass from Hughes (Schweyn kick)
B – Walker 7 pass from Hughes (Schweyn kick)
B – Schweyn 37 field goal
RUSHING – Bethel: Josh Walker 21-153, Solomon Danny 5-42. Stadium: Nazje Briscoe 22-157, Hunter Wendling 7-40.
PASSING – Bethel: Nate Hughes 14-20-1-203. Stadium: Hunter Wendling 16-27-1-222.
RECEIVING – Bethel: Josh Walker 3-72, Omar Merrweather 3-32, Tristyn Gese 3-29. Stadium: Xavier Mason 8-96, Dylan Hartman 1-45, Che Rogers 3-34, P-nut Harris 1-17, Darius Bailey 1-17.