Not only did the Bethel Wildcats by beating the Brookfield Bobcats at home in the annual Thanksgiving Day showdown, but more importantly, the win coupled with Stonington’s loss means the Wildcats are headed back to the Class M state playoffs.
“It’s one thing to beat a rival in the last game of the season,” Bethel quarterback Brandon Schmidt said. “But to get the news that we’re in the playoffs for the second time in three years is great.”
Led by Schmidt and Brian Birdsell, the Wildcats (7-3) relied on their ground game to pull away with a 40-21 win over the Bobcats (5-5). The pair combined for 329 yards on the ground and scored three times.
“We were able to control the line of scrimmage because of our line today,” Bethel coach Jason Gill said. “When we get that push up front, that makes it easier for Schmidt to make the read. It’s really hard to stop both them, because they’re both outstanding runners.”
In addition to his 182 rushing yards, Schmidt also threw for 80 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Bethel took a 20-15 lead into the half before taking the game over in the third. After recovering a squib kick at their own 41-yard line, the Wildcats quickly drove down the field and extended their lead to 12 when Birdsell scored from 4 yards out.
“That was very important,” Gill said. “We gave up a touchdown at the end of the half… so we really needed to come out and get that score.”
The Bobcats had chances to cut into the lead, but twice turned the ball over in Wildcats’ territory. First it was an interception by Joseph Piatnik down by his own goal line, then it was a fumble recovered by Phillipe Daluz at the 30-yard line.
Daluz led the Wildcats with seven tackles, while William Quinn had five.
“Quite frankly we’ve played many games this year where we’ve turned the ball over too many times,” Brookfield coach Rich Angarano said. “We felt like we were in good shape, we were only down five points, so we felt good about ourselves. But they came out and took it to us.”
Early on things looked good for the Bobcats — Leaon Gordon returned the opening kick 87 yards followed by a successful two-point attempt to go up 8-0.
Gordon finished with 304 all-purpose yards and found the end zone two more times, a 35-yard reception late in the second quarter and 5-yard run in the final two minutes of the game.
“He’s a great player,” Angarano said. “He’s had a good season, he’s showed some things of what he really is all about and he definitely is a player that could play at the next level.”
Following Gordon’s early strike, the Wildcats responded with a first quarter touchdown from Schmidt and then added a pair of Calvin Daniels touchdown receptions in the second quarter. Quinn added to the Wildcats’ final score on a 23-yard counter play with just over five minutes left in the game.
“This is always a big game,” Gill said. “Playing on Thanksgiving against a rival and a good football team like Brookfield, it’s always a great feeling to get the win. The turkey seems to taste that much better if you win on Thanksgiving, then to find out that we’re in the state tournament, even better.”
While the Bobcats’ season is over, the Wildcats will continue playing in the state playoffs. The opponent and time of the game will be announced tomorrow at 12 p.m.