For the first time since 2006, when this year's senior class was in the 7th grade, Phoebus had been declared the underdog. By this newspaper, anyway, which made Bethel a four-point favorite Saturday afternoon.
The Phantoms took affront to that, and head coach Stan Sexton made sure they did. Who knows how much of a role it played, but Phoebus looked more like its old self in a 28-13 win over the Bruins at Darling Stadium.
"I told them it was the first time in their careers they were the underdog," Sexton said. "I told them, nobody believes you can win. The stadium is going to be full of people wanting you to drop this game. I think that got them motivated a little bit. They were juiced to play."
It was the 50th consecutive win for Phoebus, which is a VHSL record and the longest active streak in the nation.
In what was a one-possession game going into the fourth quarter, the Phantoms (5-0, 4-0 Peninsula District) closed strong. Phoebus had 89 of its 214 total yards in the fourth quarter, all on the ground.
Defense scored the Phantoms' first two touchdowns — Deshaun Summers had an 18-yard interception return on the first play of the third quarter, and Isiah Jones-Clark had a 27-yard pick-six nearly eight minutes later. And it was 14-7 when Phoebus' offense awoke.
It was textbook Phantom football — 17 plays, 86 yards (all on the ground), 7:55 off the clock. With each move of the chains, you could see Bethel's players losing steam.
"We just said, 'Look, we don't have to score. We just want to run as much time off the clock as possible,'" Sexton said. "It's one thing to have an 8-minute drive, but it's another to have an 8-minute drive and score."
The best way to slow down a spread offense, of course, is keep it off the field.
"That's what they do," said Bubba Hooker, Bethel's acting head coach. "They're good at it. That's why they've won 50 games in a row."
Desmond Belfield rushed for 45 of his 80 yards on that drive. Tony Pittman had 39 of his 85.
"We talked in the locker room about getting our assignments right," Belfield said. "Then we went out and executed like we should."
To make matters worse for the Bruins, they misplayed the ensuing kickoff. Jones-Clark recovered the pooch kick at the Bethel 19-yard line. Five plays later, Belfield ran it in from the 6-yard line to make it 28-7.
"I don't know if they wore us down," Hooker said. "But mentally, you know the game is slipping away."
It was scoreless as the third quarter started, and on the first play Bethel quarterback Frank Brown looked to Willie Davis in the flat. Summers read it, picked off the pass, and had the easiest pick-six of his life.
"I felt the defense had to score," Summers said. "Somebody had to score first. Why not us?"
Phoebus tied it on Brown's sneak with 5:13 left in the third, but exactly two minutes later Jones-Clark intercepted Brown's pass over the middle. His return made it 14-7.
Bethel came in averaging 33 points a game, and Brown had already thrown for 1,017 yards in four games. But on Saturday, Brown hit on less than half his passes (13-of-30) for 175 yards and two picks.
"To hold that offense to 13 points is really a big testament to our defense," Sexton said.
PHOEBUS 28, BETHEL 13
Pho—Summers 18 interception return (Enderson kick), 11:54.
Bet—Brown 1 run (Shover kick), 5:13.
Pho—Jones-Clark 27 interception return (Enderson kick), 3:13.
Pho—Pittman 1 run (Enderson kick), 5:35
Pho—Belfield 6 run (Enderson kick), 2:43.
Bet—Brown 3 run (kick blocked), :03.
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