By Don Dopf

Friday night’s Butte County sideline chatter seemed to indicate that the folks from Arco didn’t believe the Tri-Valley Titans had actually beaten any really good teams this season. That kind of talk is a feeble attempt to assure one’s self that your team’s chances are better than they really are.

The Butte County Pirates came into Friday night’s semifinal playoff game against Tri-Valley with a single loss and a 50-plus points-per-game average. Their only loss had come in the season opener against cross-division opponent Grace. Pirate fans and friends were pretty optimistic they’d have little trouble with the supposed untried Titans.

The needle on the Pirate optimism gauge began it slow but steady descent by the end of the first quarter however after the Titan boys shut down Butte County’s highly-touted offense on their one and only possession of the period. Meanwhile, the Titan’s first possession took the ball to the BC 12-yard line where they gave it up on downs. It was clear that both teams had brought their A-game defenses and this was going to be a ground-pounding, grind-it-out affair.

Early in the second quarter on TV’s second possession, Teddy Ertel capped a long hard-earned drive with a six-yard touchdown run. The Pirates stuffed the extra point attempt however and the Titans held a shaky six-point advantage.

Football is a fascinating game and momentum can shift in a heartbeat. Up to this point, neither team appeared to be in control of it. The Pirates weren’t having much success with their ground game so decided to air one out. The Titan defensive line came flooding into the Pirate backfield, rushing a pass that was picked off by Parker Cornwell who gathered in a bobble and headed out on an 18-yard jaunt to the Pirate 17. The Titans weren’t able to capitalize on the turnover, but the message had been sent and momentum was leaning toward Tri-Valley.

The first half was dissolving quickly with few stops of the clock due to both teams slugging it out on the ground, and with about 20 seconds remaining in the half, the Titans made a huge statement when Chip Mitchell took a pitch and sprinted 30-plus yards to the end zone. Unfortunately, the touch was nullified by a chop-block penalty, but the play showcased the Titan’s ability to score suddenly from anywhere.

Tradition and experience has it that the Titans own the third quarter. It’s been that way all season. That’s why it was a bit disconcerting when the Pirates took the opening kickoff of the second half and began a slow but methodical drive down the field that had the Titans on their heels for nearly seven minutes. That drive took the Pirates to the Titan five-yard-line where Tri-Valley dug in with a very impressive stop that left BC players and fans frustrated and worried. 

The Titans put together a similar drive on the following possession and carried a slim 6-0 lead into the final quarter. That possession ended with a rare event. The Titans punted on a 4th and three near midfield, putting the Pirates deep in their own territory with roughly nine minutes left in the game.

The Pirates went four and out and a pathetic punt gave the Titans possession with terrific field position near the BC twenty-yard-line with less than eight minutes showing. On a 4th down and twelve, cool as the proverbial cucumber, Jayden Mink set up in the pocket and drilled a pass to Teddy Ertel for a touchdown and another six points. The conversion failed, but the Titans had a little breathing room at 12-0.

The Titan defense was finally warmed up, the Pirates were fleeing from a shut-out, and the Butte County optimism gauge was teetering on empty. This is the point in a game when one sees the rewards of stringent physical conditioning. This is the time when all those hard hours of working out in practice and the weight rooms pays off big dividends. This defense seemingly could have played another game and never missed a beat. The Pirates went four and out once again with five minutes left in the game.

The Titan offense effectively controlled the rest of the game and iced the cake with 1:37 remaining on a Jayden Mink to Chip Mitchell pass play from five yards out. Jayden scampered for a second or so before rifling a shot to Chip, on his knees in the end zone. Looking for any signs of triumph in a dismal defeat, the BC sideline prematurely erupted in a victorious shout when it appeared that Jayden’s keeper on the extra-point conversion had been stuffed. The shout evaporated like an early October snowfall however when Jayden’s arm, with the ball, stretched from the pack across the goal line. It was the perfect finish and the Titan’s secured the big win with a 20-ZIP final count.

In spite of the fierce defense put up by Butte County, the Titans mustered 231 yards of total offense. Jayden Mink was seven for thirteen passing for 84 yards and two touchdowns. Chip Mitchell led in receiving with 58 yards while Parker Cornwell and Teddy Ertel gathered in 13 yards each.  The Titans ran for 147 yards with Teddy Ertel gathering 96, Collin Kindall 29, Jayden Mink 16, and Chip Mitchell six.

There just aren’t enough words to accurately describe how awesome the Titan Defense was in this massive ground game. Stopping a powerful, high-scoring offense like Butte County’s is a major achievement. There were too many notable individual performances in this team effort to name them all. The only gauge we have, besides seeing it take place, are some stats.

Any opponent fortunate enough to make his way through or around the D-Line always has to meet up with Chip Mitchell. Chip seems to show up anywhere and everywhere to squelch a run. This game may have been dubbed, the Great Twitchell-Mitchell shootout. This is in reference to Butte County’s great 185-pound running back Ty Twitchell. It’s pretty clear who won this matchup.

Chip led all tacklers with 12, backed by Teddy Ertel with nine; Orion Southwick with eight and two assists; Logan Reyna with eight and two assists; Collin Kindall with six and two assists; and Cody Nixon with six.

Coach Johnson says,  "Our defense had an awesome game.  To shut out an opponent that is averaging over 50 points a game is an incredible effort.  We would also like to thank the fans for the great support they gave us tonight.  We hope we can see them at the state championship game." 

So, depending on the outcome of the Deary-Carey semifinal, the Titans will play in the state championship final game next Saturday either at ISU’s Holt Arena or UofI’s Kibbie Dome. Either one of these locations will be like a home game for the Titan’s opponent, so it would be great if all those who showed Friday night in Cambridge would make the effort to be there.  GO TITANS!!