LEWISBURG — After giving up two touchdowns in the first four minutes of the game and committing five total turnovers, Tri-County North (2-1) responded with 19 straight points to pull off the comeback and take home a 19-13 win.
After forcing a punt on Bethel’s opening drive, the Panthers fumbled on their opening drive, leading to a 15-yard rushing touchdown (and missed extra point) on Bethel’s next play.
On the ensuing kickoff, North fumbled again and it was returned for another Bethel TD, making it 13-0 with 8:40 remaining in the first quarter.
After getting the ball back, the Panthers put together a good drive with two third down conversions, but coughed the ball up again, this time with a chance to score on Bethel’s 1-yard line.
The Panthers were able to force a punt, but the turnovers persisted as North fumbled the football while returning the punt, handing it right back to Bethel.
“We made a lot of mistakes early, similar to last week,” North coach Adam Hall said. “But you’ve got to give our guys credit, you know, we kept fighting all the way through the game. I think we just kept waiting and waiting for that play to come, and eventually it did and we got ahead and held onto it.”
Bethel then lost the ball on the ensuing possession, giving it right back to North, who then went three-and-out.
After a short punt by North and a play where Bethel’s QB completed a tipped pass to himself, the game entered the second quarter.
North forced another punt by the Bees, but a block in the back backed the Panthers up to their own 20-yard line.
Facing third-and-15, freshman quarterback Logan Flory completed a 37-yard pass to senior Cooper Cole, and after a targeting penalty on Bethel, the Panthers moved all the way up to Bethel’s 28-yard line.
North got to Bethel’s 2-yard line and a 2-yard rushing TD was taken off the board due to a penalty, but the Panthers worked their way back for senior Braeden Rike to find the end zone on another 2-yard rushing TD, cutting the deficit to 13-7.
Bethel lost the ball on the next possession, but the Panthers would later turn the ball over on downs after a pass fell incomplete on fourth-and-15.
The Bees began to drive as the half neared, but Cole put a stop to the drive with a sack and sent the game to the half.
The sloppy nature of Friday’s game continued into the second half, as North fumbled on its opening drive after getting to Bethel’s 29-yard line.
Bethel went three-and-out on its ensuing possession, and the teams then traded punts.
As the fourth quarter began, North moved quickly with a big pass from Flory to junior Luke Eby that set the Panthers up at Bethel’s 29-yard line.
Another long run by Eby set them up at the 2-yard line, and he then punched it in for the 2-yard rushing TD, but a missed extra point kept things tied up at 13.
North forced two incompletions on Bethel’s next drive, and another sack by Cole on third-and-10 forced a punt.
With 7:54 remaining and the game tied at 13, the Panthers began their drive with runs from Rike and Eby that got them to Bethel’s 30-yard line.
“I mean, that’s what we do, right?,” Hall said of the running game. “We’re gonna run it. Sometimes, if it’s junked up, you know, we’ll figure out what we’ve got to do and we’ll get it fixed.”
North converted a third-and-4, and then Eby got North to Bethel’s 1-yard line where he then punched in his second touchdown of the game to give the Panthers their first lead.
After the previous missed extra point, Hall elected to go for a 2-point conversion instead, which failed, leaving North with a 19-13 lead.
With 4:33 remaining, Bethel began its drive with a 9-yard gain on first down, but it was the last positive gain of the night for the Bees.
After incomplete passes on 2nd and 3rd down, Bethel’s comeback quest ended on fourth-and-1 after a bobbled snap led to a game-ending sack by Cole.
Cole finished with at least 3.5 sacks on the evening, following up his four-sack performance against Twin Valley South last week.
“It’s awesome because you know that the defense and the quarterback have to be worried about Cooper Cole,” Hall said. “His effort has been great, and I think that it’s just good for the whole team. You can’t over value something like that.”
North was then able to run out the clock to complete the 19-13 win.
“I’m glad for our seniors. It’s been a weird year,” Hall said. “To get to finally have a Senior Night. It was an ugly game but a win is a win, right? So we’ll take it.”
The Panthers will head on the road this week to take on Miami East on Friday, Sept. 18.
Reach Braden Moles at 937-683-4056 or on Twitter @BradenMoles