BETHEL — Southern hospitality.
By definition, it is entering a warm, sweet and welcoming environment.
On Friday, West Jefferson High School traveled south to take on fellow-undefeated Bethel-Tate in a Division V ,Region 20 quarterfinal.
It was the first football playoff game ever hosted by Bethel-Tate, and they were sure they would pull out all the stops. From packed bleachers to a culinary smorgasbord in the press box to the red tuxedo-clad public address announcer, the Tigers faithful bent over backward to show their party planning prowess.
The spirit of giving extended to the gridiron as well as West Jefferson used strong offense and opportunistic defense to thank Bethel-Tate for their hospitality and throttled the Tigers 48-18.
“There are no ugly wins in the playoffs, and tonight you dominated,” West Jefferson coach Shawn Buescher told his team following the game. “These are going to get tougher as we go forward.”
West Jeff started the scoring less than a minute into the game as Justin Williams scored on a nine yard crossing route off the arm of quarterback Lance Lambert. The touchdown was set up with a Williams-Lambert 48-yard connection on the first offensive play of the game.
The home team responded as Bethel-Tate signal-caller Seth Becker coordinated a scoring drive of his own. Using his arm and legs, Becker got his squad down the field, and they went in the end zone on a nine yard Nate Owens run. A pack of Roughriders converged to block the extra point to maintain the lead.
Even when West Jeff made errors, things went its way. For example, the Tigers defense held the Roughriders to punt. West Jeff kicked, but had a false start and was made to kick again.
The Tigers subsequently muffed the punt, giving the Roughriders yet another welcoming gift.
With a short field, West Jeff went to the ground game. It took just five plays to reach pay dirt. Ethan Higgins barreled in from a yard out, and the Jon Stevenson kick made it 14-6.
Even with the score still close, Bethel-Tate took early chances, going most times on fourth down. The first time it worked, thanks to a West Jeff personal foul. The new time, however, Roughriders Hunter Braithwaite sacked Tiger Becker to get possession back for West Jeff.
Lambert connected with Jacob Boyd on a long pass, and then the senior quarterback ran it untouched from 20 yards out to conclude the first quarter scoring.
It was another Braithwaite sack that stymied the Tigers usually-potent offense.
A poorly-executed fake punt by Bethel-Tate was yet another fine gift for West Jeff. It showed its gratitude by putting together yet another impressive scoring drive. It was Higgins again from a yard out, this time set up by a 40-plus competition by Lambert to Gabe Jones.
Coming into the game, there were comparisons between the two quarterbacks as Lambert and Becker both had solid years. In the end, Lambert outperformed the host quarterback exponentially, thanks to his arm, his receivers’ hands, and the fine defensive back play by his West Jeff teammates.
“Lance’s main strengths are his accuracy and his mind,” Buescher said. “Their quarterback is a special player too, but we got a good rush on him all night and our defensive backs played lights out.”
After another failed fourth down by the Tigers gifted the Roughriders with a short field. In a carbon copy of a previous drive, a long Lambert to Boyd hook up led to a short Higgins touchdown run.
Bethel-Tate looked to cut into the deficit with a 51 yard completion, but once again gave the ball back, this time via a fumble.
West Jeff was more than happy to reward the generosity as Lambert used the run and pass to engineer a nine play, 85 yard drive that ended with a spectacular 19-yard touchdown catch by Wyatt Dillion. It was set up by a 36 yard pass to Caleb Van Hook.
An interception by Van Hook in the waning seconds of the second quarter ensured the game would start with a running clock after the break.
With that running clock in the second half, West Jeff controlled the ball.
Although the Tigers scored to stop the running clock, that was temporary as Gavin Frybarger put the Roughriders up by 30-plus again.
Then despite the Tigers scoring again, a stopped two point conversion kept the running clock going the remainder of the game.
Now the Roughriders wait to see where they will be playing next Friday.
Jeff Gates is a contributing writer for The Madison Press.