MORRISTOWN - In winning five games in a row, Bellaire had limited its opponents to hardly any big plays, something that had pleased head coach Jose Davis.
He wasn't real pleased that his Big Reds (7-2) yielded a handful of big plays to homestanding Union Local Friday night at a cold Jet Stadium, but he'll take a 41-25 Buckeye 8 victory, spoiling the Jets' Senior Night.
"We kind of reverted back to four or five weeks ago where we gave up a couple big plays," Davis said of a 72-yard fumble return and a 39-yard jump-ball reception. "Those are things that we were playing so well and taking care of things like that, but we let them happen tonight.
BELLAIRE’S Brendon Ross runs through an attempted Union Local tackler during Friday’s game in Morristown. Ross had an interception and caught four balls for 128 yards and two touchdowns.
"If we want to keep on playing, we can't afford to let that happen."
It was the defense, however, that came up big for Bellaire, along with senior quarterback Spencer Badia, who eclipsed the coveted 7,000-yard mark for his sparkling career.
The Big Reds came up with a pair of huge fourth-and-1 stops in the first half, and defensive end Cody LaRoche sacked Union Local quarterback Travis James in the end zone for a safety as Bellaire held a 16-6 halftime advantage.
Things started to go south for the Jets on the very first play of the third quarter when Dom Vinka, whose name was announced a lot on the defensive side of the ball for Bellaire, pounced on a fumble at the UL 32.
After Badia found Brendon Ross for 23 yards on first down, Hunter Westlake took a handoff and sprinted 9 yards up the gut for six points. The PAT was blocked as Bellaire led 22-6.
Five plays later, James was picked off by Ross who returned the ball 18 yards to the Union Local 38.
On second down, Badia flipped a short pass to Ross in the right flat and the fleet-footed receiver broke a tackle and was off to the races to complete the 38-yard hookup for a 28-6 advantage.
"You can't turn the ball over against a team like Bellaire," Union Local head coach Bruce Stiles admitted. "We let them score two touchdowns early in the second half after we thought we were in a good position at the half down 16-6.
"You can't give a team like them that many opportunities because they can score," he continued. "You're going to have to outscore them to beat them."
Bellaire seemed headed for another score after holding the Jets on a fourth-and-4 when Myliek Green sacked James, but UL's Demitree Turner scooped up a Big Reds' fumble a few plays later and outran everyone 72 yards for the score. The two-point conversion failed, leaving the score 28-12 with 2:46 left in the third quarter.
The hosts got even closer when Jake Leishman bulled his way into the end zone from two yards out for a 28-18 count. Once again, the conversion attempt failed with 11:12 remaining to play.
All the momentum the hosts had generated went by the wayside on the very next snap as Badia and Ross teamed for a 58-yard scoring connection. Badia completed a hitch in the left flat, and Ross broke a pair of tackles before breaking into the open and taking off to the promised land. LaRoche made it 35-18 with 10:57 on the clock.
UL didn't give up, though, as it marched 58 yards on six plays to cut into the deficit once again. On fourth-and-goal from the 12, James was under pressure before lobbing the ball to the left side of the end zone when Isaac Goodson was all alone. Eric Dunfee's PAT made it 35-25. Keying the drive was a double reverse pass where Dunfee teamed with Josh Bolyard on a 39-yard hookup in which Bolyard outleaped two Bellaire defenders.
After Patrick Abboud recovered a Bellaire fumble, Nick Patrone stepped in front of a James' pass and returned the pick 42 yards to ice the game. He also caught TD passes of 26 and 5 yards to stake the Big Reds to a 14-0 lead in the first half. Patrone also caught seven passes for 123 yards, while Ross had four receptions for 128 yards.
Badia finished 17 of 30 for 347 yards and four TDs. He now has 7,345 and joins Bellaire's Nate Davis and Steubenville Central's Brenton Colabella in the elite club.
"It feels good," Badia said of the mark. "But it really is a team effort. It's not just me, it's the guys around me. It's the guys up front who block and the receivers who make the catches."
James accounted for nearly 300 total yards of offense with 155 yards rushing on 26 carries. He had a 4-yard TD run in the second quarter. He also completed a dozen passes for 141 yards and a score, while throwing two INTs.
"I proud of the fact my kids didn't quit the entire game," Stiles continued. "They played hard the entire game and that's all I can ask for as a coach."
Union Local rushed for 246 yards behind James' effort. Leishman added 60 on 11 totes.
"We'll get back in the lab this week and get ready for a big test in Martins Ferry," Davis said.
The Big Reds, who clinched at least a share of the Buckeye 8 title and inched closer to the OVAC title, will host the Purple Riders for the SPARKY Trophy next Saturday at 12:30 p.m. at Nelson Field. Both teams are already assured a playoff berth. Meanwhile, Union Local (3-6) heads to St. Clairsville to conclude its season.