By Garth Shanklin
Fans are used to seeing big plays on the field when they watch local football teams in action. Every once and a while, however, events off the field overshadow what happens on the gridiron.
The Goshen Warriors traveled to Bethel-Tate High School on Sept. 9 for a non-conference bout. Originally, the Tigers’ student section planned a black out in the stands for the contest, but after Goshen Middle Schooler Tommy Simpkins was injured after being hit by a car on Sept. 3, Bethel-Tate athletic director Matt Koenig made the decision to switch up the theme.
Koenig called for a ‘Purple Out’ to show support for Simpkins and the Goshen community as a whole. Purple is Simpkins’ favorite color.
In a display of solidarity, fans on both sides of the field decked themselves out in whatever purple they could find and purple balloons lined the fence around the stadium, all done to bring the two communities closer together and to show the Simpkins’ family both communities had them in their thoughts.
The only time the two fan bases didn’t stand together as one was during the game itself, which unfortunately for the Tigers didn’t go as well as they planned.
Bethel-Tate’s first-quarter drive ended with an interception that set Goshen up with the ball inside the Tiger 20 yard-line. Jamie Strunk scored on a four-yard run to give the Warriors an early 7-0 lead.
That was the score at the 8:45 mark of the second period, when the Tigers recorded a safety to get on the board. On the ensuing drive, Steven Cooper scored on a 37-yard run to put Bethel-Tate ahead 8-7 after the two-point conversion attempt failed. Bethel-Tate head coach Jeff Essig said Cooper’s vision as a ball-carrier and his determination allow him to run as well as he does.
“When he runs the ball his feet are always moving and he’s always fighting for that extra yard,” Essig said. “His want-to, his effort and aggression are keys. He’s got great vision. He had a pretty good run the week before against Fayetteville with the same kind of effort and want-to when he gets the ball in his hands.”
That would be the last time the Tigers lit up the scoreboard in the first half. Strunk dove in for another short touchdown run with 4:36 left in the half, giving the Warriors a 13-8 lead. After a Tiger turnover on downs, Goshen scored their third touchdown of the half on a run by Johnny Kube with 1:50 left in the half.
The Tigers would get the ball back, but sacks and incomplete passes gave the ball back to the Warriors with 29.9 seconds left in the half. Goshen struck again, this time on a 27-yard touchdown pass from Kyle Proffitt to Kamrin Tuerck. The Warriors converted the extra point to lead 26-8 at halftime.
The third quarter began with Chris Wheeler throwing his third interception of the game for the Tigers. Essig said Wheeler’s focus was on the deeper throws instead of the shorter passes the Warriors’ defense was giving him.
“We weren’t hitting our open guys,” Essig said. “He wasn’t taking advantage of what they were giving us. They were giving us the short stuff, they were really concerned about the deep ball. [Wheeler] wasn’t looking short, even when they were concerned about the deep throw.”
On the first play from scrimmage for the Warriors, Strunk broke free for a 60-yard touchdown run that put Goshen ahead 33-8 with 9:50 left in the third quarter.
Essig said that Wheeler suffered an injury at one point during the game, and he wasn’t sure when it occurred. Regardless, it forced freshman Alex Manz into action.
The teams traded turnovers and punts into the fourth quarter, where Manz scored on a 13-yard touchdown run. After the two-point conversion attempt failed, Bethel-Tate trailed 33-14. They would lose the game 42-14.
Essig said the team’s lack of execution is why they found themselves on the wrong side of the scoreboard.
“We wanted to execute, that was our motto of the week,” Essig said. “Execute our game plan. It didn’t go as planned. We had some issues with personnel and injuries.”
The Tigers at one point were forced to use their third-string quarterback, Cooper Dunn, for one play on offense. It resulted in a safety. Manz, the team’s current backup, has had a few reps at the junior varsity level, according to Essig.
“With so many numbers that we’ve had he’s already had two junior varsity games under his belt,” Essig said. “It wouldn’t have been like last year, where [Wheeler] was the backup and didn’t see the field except for the tail end of a few games. [Manz] has been in game situations already this year, albeit at a lower level and not on Friday nights.”
Not all position groups are dealing with injuries at the moment for the Tigers. Essig said both the offensive and defensive lines, along with the secondary and the wide receiving corp, appear to be fine heading into week four, though he added he wasn’t sure who the Tigers would have at quarterback.
As for Goshen, head coach Ryan George said the team played well in the secondary, but mistakes were made that need to be corrected.
“I thought our secondary played well,” George said. “We tackled poorly at times throughout the game. Offensively we ran the ball well, but we had receivers open at times. We need to get the ball to them.”
George credited the offensive line for the blocking that allowed Strunk to total 177 yards and three touchdowns on the night.
“He had good blocking in front of him,” George said. “He had two runs over 60 yards and I don’t know if he was touched. The offensive line did what they were supposed to do.”
Defensively, George said the team’s priority was to shut down the Tigers’ passing attack, then the team could focus on slowing down Cooper and the rushing game.
“They throw the ball a lot, so our big thing was we wanted to make sure that we could deal with their passing game,” George said. “If they had to run it, we were in better shape. They had to run the ball more and the defense had five interceptions, so we did a good job there. We had some missed tackles and that was a lack of effort on our part.”
George said the purple theme for the event was a “classy” move by the Tigers.
“I think all of our players and coaches would like to thank them,” George said. “That was really classy on their part. Tommy’s fighting the good fight and getting better, and it was nice to see the community join together for that purpose.”
Both teams have big tests ahead this weekend. Bethel-Tate will host Norwood and quarterback Matt Goodman, who has totaled nearly 1,500 all-purpose yards and 15 touchdowns in just three games.
“Their quarterback is phenomenal,” Essig said. “He’s the one they want to try to get the ball to majority of the time. In the two games I’ve watched, he’s carried the ball more than 30 times in those games.”
Essig added the teams take the same approach to lining up at the line of scrimmage, but they differ in what their goals are once they get there.
“They’re similar to us in terms of formations and sets, but they’re more spread to run and we’re spread to focus on what the defense is giving us,” Essig said. “They’re trying to spread it to run it no matter what the defense is giving to them. It’ll be a challenge. [Defensive coordinator Randy] Hospelhorn has a great game plan, and I think we’re going to be pretty solid and try to stop what they want to do and force them to do thins they don’t want to do often.”
Goshen, meanwhile, will host Blanchester in the King of the Road game. George said the Wildcats will pose a tough challenge for his team as they look for their third win of the 2016 campaign.
“They’re a very good team,” George said. “They run and throw the ball well, and they’re tough kids. It’s going to be a big challenge for us. We’re going to have to step up.”
Both of the contests are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 16.