Shadyside, Bellaire seek pivotal win
SHADYSIDE — Although both Bellaire and Shadyside have explosive offenses, points should be at a premium when a pair of 6-1 state-ranked high school football teams collide Friday night at Fleming Field.
The Tigers, ranked No. 6 in Division VI, Region 23, are yielding a mere 11.7 points, while the Big Reds, ranked No. 3 in Division V, Region 19, are close behind at 11.9.
Shadyside is coming off a 48-7 blowout of outmanned Beallsville last week, while Bellaire suffered its first setback in a 27-16 reversal at St. Clairsville.
“I think the kids realize after watching the film that we didn’t play all that bad,” Bellaire head coach Mark Spigarelli said of the loss to the undefeated Red Devils. “I thought we played really well offensively. I thought Cole (Porter) ran the ball well and I thought our offensive line played hard and blocked well.
“The kids know they can’t dwell on the loss and it’s time to get re-focused and ready for Shadyside,” he added. “This will not be an easy game for us.”
The aforementioned Porter has run for 1,106 yards and is averaging 158 yards a game. He has scored 12 touchdowns.
He has been the beneficiary of a huge and talented offensive line that includes seniors Joey Hoepfner (6-1, 290) and Daniel Lednik (6-0, 265); juniors Chase Nolan (6-0, 250), Connor Rosen (6-1, 245) and Levi Littell (6-3, 280). Senior tight end Cole LaRoche (6-1, 210) also lends support.
“That worries me,” Shadyside head coach Mark Holenka said of Bellaire’s huge front line. “They are very big and capable of doing what they do. They utilize their strength and will run the ball right at you.”
When the Big Reds take to the air, junior Bobby Roth has been steady. He has thrown for 362 yards and a trio of touchdowns on 32 of 67. He has only been picked off twice and has a quarterback rating of 102. His favorite targets have been LaRoche and A.J. McCarthy with seven receptions each. LaRoche has caught two TDs. Senior Trenton Wilson, who leads the team with 107 receiving yards, has the other six-point catch.
“No doubt that they will come up with something to stop our run game,” Spigarelli said of Shadyside’s defensive gameplan. “They play a 4-3 with some 4-4. They like to get guys in gaps and the (Sam) Merryman kid at end is a handful. Connor Banco is a really good linebacker that line up inside and outside.”
While Bellaire likes to grind it out behind that line, Shadyside is more of a passing team than it has been in the past.
Senior Anthony Coggins has completed 97 of 150 attempts for 1,426 yards. The two-year starter has tossed 14 touchdowns while throwing only one pick. His main targets are junior Kelly Hendershot and the aforementioned Merryman. Hendershot has caught 33 passes for 499 yards and four touchdowns. Merryman has landed 21 catches for 306 stripes and four scores.
“Their quarterback is really poised,” Spigarelli noted. “He will be one of the best we face all season. They have a really good offense … a lot of good, skilled players. The Hendershot kid is their go-to guy and the tight end (Merryman) is a good receiver.”
Banco, who ran for 1,017 yards and 21 TDs as a junior, is the Tigers leading ballcarrier with 68 totes for 380 yards and seven scores. However, the three-year veteran has been sidelined for the last two weeks. In his absence, freshman Wyatt Reiman has stepped up and delivered with 246 yards and five touchdowns on 45 carries. Sophomore Jacob Visnic adds 222 stripes and four scores while Hendershot has gained 179 and found the end zone twice.
“We want to be as balanced as we can, but lately we’ve had to rely on the pass,” Holenka said. “We’ll do whatever we can to find the right recipe to winning.”
In battles such as this, the final outcome could come from the right leg of one team’s placekicker. Both had quality booters in LaRoche and Shadyside’s Angel Velasquez.
LaRoche, a veteran straight-on kicker, has split the uprights on 19 PATs and boomed a 40-yard field goal last week.
“I think he may have surprised some people last week with that 40-yarder, but he didn’t surprise me,” Spigarelli added. “We needed points at that stage of the game and he has a very strong leg.”
Velasquez is a soccer-style kicker who has come on strong this season. In his first year, he has kicked 25 extra-points on 31 attempts, including half-a-dozen made last week.
The Ohio 7 rivals have met 34 times, with Bellaire holding a 24-7-3 advantage in the all-time series. However, since the rivalry resumed in 2013, the Tigers have reeled off five consecutive victories, including a 46-22 triumph last year at Nelson Field.