Most expected Bellaire's visit to Harrison Central Friday evening to be a high-scoring affair.
The large crowd, which turned out for Homecoming festivities in Cadiz, wasn't disappointed.
The Big Reds scored on their first drive of the game, but it was their second-half defense, which proved to be the difference as they posted a hard-earned, 34-32, victory against the Huskies.
"Nothing's different for us," said an elated Jose Davis. "Whether it's Harrison Central or Steubenville Central, a win is a win."
The late defensive effort from the Big Reds (4-2) ended a marathon game, which took nearly three hours to complete.
Just two plays into the third quarter, Harrison Central (2-4) had snagged a 32-20 lead and appeared on its way to blowing it wide open after senior quarterback Kyle Blanchard found seldom-used Austin Schurr on a 62-yard hook up.
"We've had problems like that all year and it's been a story for us that bad things happen at inopportune times," said Harrison Central head coach Justin Kropka. "It's tough to explain to the kids when they're playing hard and doing so many good things."
However, Bellaire had other plans.
"I've been telling the kids we're not going to score on every possession, so we're going to have to step up at some point and play defense," Davis said. "I can't be any prouder of our kids. A lot of them played the entire 48 minutes."
Bellaire answered the Huskies' touchdown when rugged sophomore Josh Davis plunged in from a yard out to cap a 11-play drive. Manny Ray came up big on the ground and as a receiver during the march. On back-to-back plays he caught a ball for 35 and had a 20-yard rush.
Harrison Central proceeded to cough up the ensuing kickoff return as Josh Tolliver pounced on a loose ball, putting the Big Reds back in business. Ray again came up big. He had a 22-yard reception into the red zone and was then rewarded with a 9-yard run for the touchdown. Tolliver's PAT was perfect.
All told, Ray accounted for 179 yards of offense. He finished with 91 on the ground and 88 through the air.
"I've been on Manny all season because he's so up-and-down," Davis said. "He's a guy who gets down on himself because he puts so much pressure on himself. We got him more involved in the game and he's a weapon. Devin started fast, but there's a little bit more to think about for other teams preparing for us."
Harrison Central,. which lost talented senior Alex Brooks to a hand injury in the first quarter, appeared on its way to answering as Blanchard found talented sophomore Maurtice Hython on a beautiful screen pass. However, Hython had the ball jaredd loose and senior defensive back Devin Ward was johnny on the spot with the recovery to stop a drive.
The Huskies marched to the Big Reds' 11, but the drive eventually ended on downs.
However, the biggest stop came in the game's wanning moments. After Bellaire chewed up almost five minutes with a drive, which eventually ended on downs on the Huskies' 35, Harrison had another crack at victory.
"There was a time in the first half where we gave up a 60-yarder and in the past we would have folded," Davis said. "We're growing and getting better. That's heart and effort, which is something I've been preaching since day one. We're gaining momentum."
Blanchard found fullback Doug Eddy on a 15-yard screen pass. Two plays later, Blanchard scrambled, but his pass was underthrown and Ward picked it off to preserve the outcome.
"For what we have on the field with missing people, I am happy with our effort," Kropka said. "I thought our coaching staff did a great job of changing our game plan as best we could, but when you don't have your playmaker on the field it hurts."
Bellaire finished with 396 yards of total offense. Rocchio was 16-of-31 for 214 yards and two scores. Ward caught both of those in the first quarter, covering 52 and 5 yards. All told, Ward finished with 82 yards on six receptions.
The Big Reds ran the ball as well as they have all year, accumulating 182 yards. Davis finished with 60 yards and two to complement Ray's effort.
Harrison Central, meanwhile, finished with 401 yards of offense. Blanchard ran for 98 yards and a score, while passing for 189 yards and a score.
"We hurt oursevles (defensively) in the first half," Davis said. "We missed a lot of tackles on Blanchard and we made some adjustments to that in the second half."
Hython was bottled up for the most part. He finished with 30 yards on 14 rushes, but did score three times.
"Given what they were doing on defense, we thought we could use our outside guys to attack that," Kropka said. "Then Brooks goes down and that's a major part of our outside game, but injuries happen."
The Huskies remain at home in week seven, hosting winless Buckeye. Bellaire returns to Nelson Field a week from today to meet struggling Union Local.
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