Golden Bears finding their ‘mojo’ at the right time

J. Patrick Eaken

Gibsonburg football is on a roll, winning five of their last six games and outscoring those five teams 222-64.
But the Golden Bears are 5-4, opening with three straight losses, including a 42-22 loss to Northwood. Even Northwood coach Ken James knew something was not right with the way his team won that game.
James told The Press he felt fortunate because that game could have been quite different.
“Gibsonburg, I know they struggled a little bit early in the season and had some issues. They lost in overtime to (Tiffin) Calvert (31-28) and lost a close one to Hopewell (Hopewell-Loudon, 27-13) … but they are starting to turn it around. They are like us where they graduated a bunch of dudes last year, which happens sometimes at small schools and you have to retool a little bit,” James said.
Since those three losses, under first-year coach Joe Wyant, the Golden Bears have defeated Margaretta 54-7, Fremont St. Joseph, 48-0, Lakota 41-34, Ottawa Hills, 41-0 and in a Division VI playoff game, took down visiting Wayne Trace 38-30. The only hiccup was a 42-0 to the top rated team in the region and No. 5 team in the state Associated Press poll, Archbold, in the second round of the playoffs.
Wyant has been involved with area football programs for over 20 years, but this is his first stint as a head coach. He has been a head coach of other local wrestling and softball programs for three decades or more and counting.
Exactly what Wyant and the Golden Bears had to deal with this year was extraordinary, but he thinks now they’ve figured it out.
“We’re playing well right now,” Wyant said. “I just think we got a chance to play. We got a late start. Because of the COVID, we did not play, so we were playing with only six days of practice and had to play Northwood. That was not good, as you know, because they are a very good team.
“Then we played the best team out of our league second, and they beat us, and we lost in overtime to Calvert when we missed a field goal with 1.7 seconds left at the end of regulation. So, we could easily now be 6-3 instead of 5-4. So, we got a couple wins, we are getting confident, we are getting better every game, and we just played a really good solid game last week.”
Wayne Trace made the trip from Paulding County, and had been a state runner-up within the past decade, but the Golden Bears held their own.
“It was a good game. It was back and forth the whole way. We scored and they scored,” Wyant said. “Even though they scored a bunch, we were much better defensively.
“The offense had done pretty much what they had done all year. Our offense is pretty solid. We shut the run down and they had only about 100 yards rushing on us. They did throw the ball on a us a little bit, but a lot of it was when we were winning and playing a little safer. We played better all-around.”
It certainly helps when you have a fullback like 5-foot-7, 170-pound Conner Smith, who already has 1,423 yards rushing on 188 carries, good for 7.6 yards per attempt, and has scored 18 touchdowns rushing and also has a 57-yard touchdown reception.
“Our best back is Connor Smith, and he’s been our best all year,” Wyant said. “That was the strong part of our season because we had five of the six offensive linemen back, so we knew our strength this year on day one was going to be our offensive line because they were all starters last year.”
Among those returning linemen from last year’s 10-0 team are 5-8, 235-pound senior center Eric Schlea, 5-11, 195-pound junior left guard Tyler Schooley, 5-10, 220-pound left tackle Lucas Zamudio, 6-0, 295-pound right tackle Tayven Halibisen.
Mitch Tille, a 6-2, 175-pound senior quarterback has run for 265 yards on 45 carries (5.9) and three TDs and thrown 16 completions in 32 attempts for 206 yards and four TDs. Dustin Derr, a junior halfback/split end, has also thrown a 57-yard TD pass.
Phillip Davies, a 5-8, 160-pound senior halfback, has carried the ball 80 times for 464 yards and five TDs and has caught four passes for 42 yards and one TD, junior halfback Radek Fox has 33 carries for 325 yards and three TDs and junior split end Austin Rodriguez has 24 carries for 177 yards and three TDs and has caught two passes for 45 yards and one TD.
Junior split end Cody Saxer has caught two passes for 56 yards and one TD, Derr has caught two passes for 32 yards and senior tight end Mason Tille has caught two passes for 23 yards.
Smith, from his linebacker position, has also led the defense with 96 tackles, two sacks, two interceptions and two fumble recoveries. Junior linebacker Dominic Whetsel has 69 tackles, including three sacks, Derr from his cornerback position has five interceptions, two fumble recoveries, 45 tackles and scored one defensive TD.
Gibsonburg closed its season Friday at Woodmore (2-7), which was coming off a 46-34 win over Margaretta.


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