Playoff berth is nice, but Bellaire treks to UL?with more to play for

MORRISTOWN – There’s no getting around it.

The Bellaire Big Reds are on a roll.

They’ve won five games in a row and woke up Sunday morning to find out they’d clinched a spot in the Division VI playoffs, which begin in two weeks.

Despite knowing their post-season fate, there’s plenty left to play for during the final two weeks of the regular season, so head coach Jose Davis isn’t about to let his team rest on its accolades.

“It’s nice and rewarding to know you’re in the playoffs, but we have so much more still to play for,” Davis said. “There are more rewards ahead of us if we continue to go about our business. We have no other choice, but to approach it that way.”

Some of those things still ahead are clinching a home game in the opening round, and the OVAC and Buckeye 8 titles. A win this week would assure the Big Reds at least a piece of the Buckeye 8 title.

The Big Reds’ next test comes Friday night in Morristown when they tangle with a Union Local squad, which would like nothing more than to not only snap the Big Reds’ winning streak, but also snap its own five-game losing skid.

“We know Union Local is going to come out and compete well,” Davis said. “They’re well-coached and they’re going to do the things they do. This is the Buckeye 8, you have to strap it up every week in this league.”

The Jets’ schedule the last month-plus has included playoff-bound Martins Ferry, Shadyside and now Bellaire. St. Clairsville lurks next week and Indian Creek is still vying for a possible trip to the postseason.

“It’s a rough stretch,” UL head coach Bruce Stiles said. “We’re just trying to battle. We know getting down on ourselves won’t help, so we’re keeping things positive. Sometimes, when kids win three in a row and then don’t get another victory, they have a tendency to return to old habits, so we’re trying to keep their spirits up and keep them mentally sharp.”

Union Local hasn’t tasted victory since thumping Barnesville in the Battle for the Milk Jug in early September. They were beaten, 46-7, last week by Shadyside. They’ll close out their regular season next week at St. Clairsville.

On top of having to deal with Union Local’s defense, which Davis has been impressed by, the Big Reds’ senior quarterback Spencer Badia is also chasing a rare milestone.

Badia, who has thrown for 1,608 yards and 23 touchdowns this season, is just 9 yards shy of becoming the third quarterback in Ohio Valley history and second in as many weekends to join the illustrious 7,000-yard club.

“We didn’t talk about that all week and maybe he was pressing a little bit, but it was a rough game last week (against Harrison Central),” Davis said. “It was sloppy all the way around, even for myself because I don’t think I called a very good game.”

Badia should achieve the mark early in the game, barring something unforseen.

“Badia an excellent quarterback,” Stiles said. “He throws a very nice ball and runs the offense well. He gets the ball out of his hand so quickly that it’s tough to bring pressure.”

While the passing game gets much of the attention for the Big Reds, Davis loves the balance his team has been achieving of late as junior Brandon Laughman has proved to be a valuable asset.

In just three games, Laughman has ran for 486 yards and two touchdowns. Junior Hunter Westlake has added 354 yards and five scores.

“That added running game really puts a different dimension in there,” Stiles said. “We’ll have our hands full. It’s going to be an adjustment (defensively) for our kids because we’ve faced so many teams of late that are run-first, physical style teams.”

The passing game, however, has been awful good to Bellaire for a lot of years. Once again, they’ve spread the wealth to a bevy of receivers.

Seniors Nick Patrone and Kenny Hess lead the way with 29 receptions each for 525 and 449 yards, respectively. They’ve teamed for 13 touchdowns. Brendon Ross has come on of late. He’s caught 22 balls for 245 yards and five touchdowns. Westlake has made 20 receptions and Tyler West has 16 catches.

“Union Local’s defense is super aggressive and they attack,” Davis said. “We have to be assignment sound and our technique has to be good.”

Union Local’s offense has struggled to get untracked in recent weeks. The Jets have scored more than nine points just once during their losing skid and now they’re dealing with a Bellaire defense, which has been playing well of late.

“I saw Bellaire early in the season and now late in the season and they’ve definitely made some strides,” Stiles said. “Early in the season, they were having real trouble stopping the run and with the same kids, they’re now stopping the run pretty well, so that’s definitely a positive thing for them.”

Travis James and Shane Smolenak saw time at quarterback last week. James has thrown for 458 yards this season.

On the ground, Eric Dunfee and Jake Leishman lead the charge. They’ve ran for 464 and 420 yards, respectively. Leishman has scored a team-high five touchdowns.

Spencer Ware and Isaac Goodson are the top receivers with 19 and nine receptions.

Staskey can be reached at