Wheeling Central runs past Bellaire

Following a Week 1 blowout loss to Wheeling Central to start the 2010 season, Bellaire rebounded to finish 6-4 and just miss the Division IV playoffs.

Third-year head coach Jose Davis is hoping for a bit of deja vu after his Big Reds debuted with a 31-13 setback to the visiting Maroon Knights Saturday afternoon before a nice-sized Hall/Wall of Fame Day crowd at Nelson Field.

“It’s a tough road ahead,” Davis said. “It’s only week one.

“Look at last year, what did we get beat by … 56-7? We lost. They beat us. We got beat by a better team today.”

Wheeling Central’s Parker Henry, a 5-9, 160-pound jitterbug, returned the opening kickoff 52 yards to set his team up at the Big Reds’ 34. After the sophomore lost a yard on first down, the Maroon Knights drove the distance on six plays as Gino Bianconi took an inside handoff from Henry on the spinner series and scooted off the left side of his line from six yards out. Bradley Cottrell was perfect on the first of four PATs.

It only took Bellaire one play to respond. Sophomore quarterback Spencer Badia made his first completion a memorable one. He pegged a strike to fleet-footed Manny Ray on a slant for 19 yards, but the elusive Ray broke a tackle at the Wheeling Central 40 and was off to the races for a 59-yard scoring play. Dalton Conroy’s placement knotted the score at 7.

The Maroon Knights, of veteran head coach Mike Young, tallied a pair of touchdowns on short runs from Henry (1 and 5) in the second quarter to take a 21-7 lead into the lockerroom, but it could’ve been worse for the Big Reds had it not been for a staunch defensive effort, especially right before the half ended.

Trailing by 14, Bellaire marched deep into Wheeling Central territory on the strength of Badia’s arm, however, a third-and-10 attempt from the 22 was picked off Bianconi who returned it to the house from 90 yards out, but a clipping penalty gave the visitors possession at their own 37 with 1:28 on the clock.

“Down by 14, we had a chance to punch it in there and cut the lead to 21-14 at the half, maybe, but we throw an interception,” Davis allowed. “It reminded me of a couple of our games in 2009 when we did the same things.”

Henry, who ran the offense to near-perfection, scampered 54 yards before being knocked out of bounds at the Bellaire 1 with 12.7 ticks left. He was stopped for no gain before the Maroon Knights called their final timeout.

Following the break, Bellaire used its third stoppage of play to give its defense a break.

Young and his staff opted for senior Patrick Biega to take the snap from center on the critical play, but he mishandled the ball and had to fall on it short of the end zone as time expired.

“We threw a pick inside our 20 not once, but twice,” Davis said referring to a pair of interceptions. “The difference between winning and losing is taking advantage of your opportunities. We didn’t do that today.”

The teams played on even terms for much of the second half as Wheeling Central built its margin to 24-7 on Cottrell’s 32-yard field goal into a stiff breeze from the left hashmarks for the only scoring in the third quarter.

Andrew Keane’s 56-yard jaunt late in the final period upped the Maroon Knights’ margin to 31-7, but Bellaire’s Josh Davis ran the ensuing kickoff back 95 yards to conclude the scoring.

Wheeling Central amassed 359 total yards – all on the ground. Bellaire couldn’t generate any infantry movement and finished with minus-22 yards on 20 carries.

Henry led the ground assault with 139 stripes and two six-pointers on 25 carries. He was backed by Bianconi (8-81-td), Keane (12-69-td) and Erik Gompers (3-60).

“He’s a kid that can break it a number of different ways,” Young said of his promising 10th-grader. “We’re very fortunate to have a kid like him at quarterback.”

Badia completed half of his 26 attempts for 221 yards and a TD, but he was picked off thrice. His main targets included Ray (6-118-td) and Chuck Myers (3-73).

“He played like a sophomore,” Davis said when asked how he would rate Badia’s performance. “Like a sophomore. (Wheeling Central) came and got him at times, but that goes back to us having some young, inexperienced linemen.”

“We’ve got a lot of great kids on this team,” Young added. “They’ve stepped up. They’re still green, very young, but I’m proud as to how they stepped up and responded to a lot of hype as to how many seniors we lost, other kids we lost. These kids are relentless. They’ve got the Wheeling Central Maroon Knight pride in them.”

Bellaire’s road gets no easier as four consecutive road contests at John Marshall, Steubenville Central, Buckeye Local and Indian Creek loom.

North can be reached at knorth@timesleaderonline.com