McKENZIE, Tenn. – Once upon a time, Brent Dearmon was a star quarterback for the Bethel (TN) Wildcats finishing as the program’s all-time leader in passing yards (7, 045) and touchdowns (77) – two records he still holds.
On Thursday night, Dearmon was back in McKenzie on the Bethel sideline. This time, however, he was making his debut as a college football head coach in charge of leading his alma mater back to glory.
And what a debut it was.
Dearmon’s Wildcats fell behind 7-0 to the nation’s No. 2-ranked Reinhardt Eagles less than three minutes into the game following a turnover, but then steadied themselves quickly to take a 21-7 lead by the end of the first quarter. Halftime saw the ‘Cats lead trimmed to 24-21, but the fireworks of the first half gave way to a defensive struggle in the second half. By the time the final horn sounded, Dearmon and Co. had pulled off a shocker for the ages in a 31-21 win over the visiting Eagles.
It’s technically just the second-biggest win in school history behind the Wildcats’ win over No. 1 Georgetown in the first round of the 2012 NAIA playoffs, and no doubt, that game had bigger implications. But in terms of actual on-the-field expectations, this one is arguably bigger. That 2012 Bethel squad, after all, was a playoff team even if it was widely expected to lose by a considerable margin to Georgetown.
On the other hand, this Bethel squad was just 3-7 a year ago before Dearmon took over in December and began to install his own system. Their opponent was the defending NAIA runners-up – the Reinhardt Eagles who were ranked No. 2 coming into the game. Add to that the fact that Dearmon’s only head coaching experience prior to his return to Bethel came in a two-year span as the head of B.C. Rain High School in Mobile, Alabama, in 2011-12.
But even if nobody outside of McKenzie, Tennessee, expected much, Dearmon and his squad obviously believed, and even after a quick fumble on a lateral led to an early Eagles’ touchdown, the Wildcats responded by driving the length of the field. Sure, they turned the ball over on downs inside the Reinhardt 5-yard line when the drive stalled, but just two plays later, Reinhardt quarterback Billy Hall was picked off by Bethel’s Tito Hunter, and you got the feeling that this edition of the Wildcats might have a little more staying power than last year’s bunch.
In the end, Bethel’s ability to control the passing game on defense – Hall was just 6-of-17 for 34 yards – combined with an opportunistic special teams and big plays on offense all proved essential to the Wildcats’ success. J’Kobi Reddick’s 39-yard punt return for a touchdown at the 5:06 mark of the first quarter gave the Wildcats their first lead at 14-7, and they would never relinquish it. De’Ontay Tate’s 71-yard run with 2:26 remaining in the opening stanza made it 21-7, and after a Reinhardt touchdown, another big play on offense in the form of a 49-yard Sam Castronova-to-Davius Prather strike put the Wildcats in position for a field goal to make it 24-14.
It would prove to be all they needed, in fact, even though Reinhardt scored once more before halftime to make it 24-21 in favor of Bethel. The Eagles, though, would never score again. Bethel would seal the deal just to be sure with a 2-yard Nolan Chowbay toss to Devante Jimenez shortly after halftime for the final margin.
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