It's only one game, but it could be the start of something special for this year’s Gibsonburg football team.
Facing former league foe Elmwood, Gibsonburg raced out to a 22-point lead before holding on for a 35-13 victory, winning the first season-opening game since 2009.
It was not just the season opener — the last two years Gibsonburg had to have a strong second half just to finish the season with a record at or close to .500. Now in his fourth year, Coach Steve Reser was pleased with the team's performance against the Royals.
“To be honest, it's definitely a monkey off our back,” he said. “All that does is raises expectations of our team. One win is good, but it doesn't make a season. We have a chance to do some bigger and better things. The kids have proven that they can win.”
|Gibsonburg freshman running back Kane Gomez turns the corner in the Golden Bears
scrimmage with Woodmore. To his right are Marcus Kreals and Nate Strickers. In pursuit
is Woodmore defensive tackle Joe Flores(62). (Press photo by Russ Lytle)
In the opener against the Royals, quarterback Matt Tille completed 9-of-12 passes for 190 yards and four scores. Isaih Arriaga had three receptions for 99 yards and two touchdowns and Adam Copley caught three passes for 26 yards and two scores.
Tille also ran 10 times for 55 yards. And that is what separates him from most quarterbacks — his ability to run the ball and make things happen when plays break down. Last season, Tille carried the ball 197 times for 878 yards and 13 touchdowns.
“It feels amazing,” Tille said. “We've been working hard. I know there are a ton of guys that come in the weight room and bust their butt just to be ready on Friday. We have the team effort in the weight room, and I feel like that's carrying over more than it has in the past.”
The spread offense fits Tille (5-foot-11, 190), as a dual threat, perfectly. A great thrower, he makes things happen with his feet.
“Basically, I have certain reads to make (and) know what to look for,” Tille said. “If I don't like what I see, I just run.”
While Tille and company have the ability to make big plays and score points, it's the line that serves as the offense's fulcrum. The unit of Jacob Auld, Bryce Wright, Tyler Hovis, Alex Garcia and Skyler Shively will be instrumental to the Bears' success this season.
“It definitely starts with our line,” Tille said. “I know how much work they've put into (this season). The new coaches and the coaches we still have are doing a great job (working with them).”
Tille also credits the running backs with picking up the blitzing linebackers, an underrated part of pass protection that is just as important as the job the offensive line does.
“Our running backs are during a good job of taking care of the blitz,” he said. “They're doing a good job of picking up the blitzing backers.
“I have great receivers around me, too. We were good last year, but I feel like we have more experience and now we're upperclassmen. I've played with these guys my entire football life.”
But it's the play of the defense that matters most.
The Bears, who operate out of the 4-2-5 format, feature a number of players rotating on the defensive line and two quality linebackers in Tyler Hovis and Josh Dyer.
“It's outstanding that our defense is playing well,” Reser said. “Our defense is playing better. We've got some guys that have played more than a year and are reading their keys. I think the kids are understanding (their roles) better. I'm very proud of the men and our coaching staff – they're doing a good job coaching our athletes. The kids are so receptive and are doing what we expect out of them.
“I think Elmwood ran a jet sweep for about 50 yards on their first play (and) half our kids are probably thinking, 'Here we go again'. With 15-to-18-year old kids, you don't know how they're going to react. But three plays later, Tyler Hovis intercepted a pass and ran it back to the 10-yard-line and set up our first score.”
Tille also understands the importance of how the defense playing well will be instrumental to the Bears competing for a TAAC title.
“It takes a lot of pressure off the offense,” Tille said. “The new guys, Coach Steve Hankish and Coach Ron Bencivengo, are doing a great job with our guys.”
In the TAAC, the Golden Bears were picked to finish second behind defending champion Northwood in close pre-season voting by the coaches. Mark your calendar — those two teams will meet on Gibsonburg’s field September 27 — a game that could set the stage in the conference.
Reser also talked about the experience and wisdom the two new assistant coaches bring to his staff.
“Coach Benz was with us in 2010 and came back with us and Coach Hankish was with St. Joseph CC. Between them, they have 45 to 50 years of coaching experience. We had a pretty good, young staff. They're good with kids. They're picking up where the other guys left off.”