Bellaire bids to bounce back at South Range
• Big Reds are the fifth seed in D-V, Region 17
CANFIELD — Mark Spigarelli has a sense of deja vu this week.
As he prepares his Bellaire football team for its first-round Ohio playoff game against South Range, he’s thinking about last year’s playoff scenario, which was similar.
There, the Big Reds lost to Martins Ferry in Week 10, only to turn around and beat the Purple Riders on the road the next week.
Spigarelli hopes history repeats itself in a way Saturday night as his team heads north to battle the Raiders in a Division V, Region 17 quarterfinal. Bellaire isn’t facing Martins Ferry again. However, the fourth-year Bellaire head coach stresses South Range is equally talented.
“I think it will be a great challenge,” he said regarding the game, which kicks off at 7 p.m. “We’re fast and physical, so I kind of like the matchup we have against them. Obviously, we have to stop the run first. That’s what they like to do. It will be a great challenge.”
South Range is no stranger to the postseason. Under the guidance of veteran head coach Dan Yeagley, the Raiders are making their 17th postseason, and first since a deep run two years ago.
There, South Range reached the state semifinals before bowing to eventual state runner-up Eastwood. Area fans might remember one stop that season was St. Clairsville for a highly-anticipated match-up with the Red Devils, won by the Raiders, 46-28.
Yeagley, in his 25th season, is excited to make in the playoffs, and more excited for his players, many of whom are tasting the “second season” for the first time as varsity competitors.
“It’s great to be back in,” he said. “I know the kids are very excited. It’s a good atmosphere. And, you know, anytime you get to Week 11, it’s always exciting.”
Like Bellaire, South Range enters the playoffs with a 7-3 record. The Raiders, though, have won four straight and have done that behind a versatile offense averaging 44.2 points per game during that stretch. All told, South Range’s offense put up 34.9 ppg.
“The kids just wanted to bounce back this season and have an opportunity to prove they’re a better team,” Yeagley said, referencing last fall’s 4-6 campaign. “We’re in a new league this year — the Northeast 8 — with a lot of bigger schools. The kids are just playing hard. That’s the biggest thing about this team … they just play hard.”
Two of the Raiders’ losses came in overtime — 23-20 to Springfield (10-0) and 35-34 to Niles McKinley (7-3). The other came vs. Poland Seminary (8-2), 27-7.
During its win streak, Yeagley said, his team, which has played every game on turf this fall, has peaked, especially up front.
“Our offensive and defensive lines have really improved,” he said. “They’ve developed as the season has gone on and they’re playing a lot better.”
That, in turn, has made the entire offense better, one led by senior quarterback Isaac Allegretto.
“He’s a good, left-handed quarterback who is very mobile and very athletic,” Spigarelli observed. “He’s probably the most-athletic quarterback we’ve faced this year. He’s very accurate. He throws the ball on the money.”
While Allegretto has thrown for about 1,400 yards, he only comprises about 50 percent of the Raiders’ offense. Yeagley said his team is about an even mix of pass and run, complemented by a foursome of talented ballcarriers.
“We’ve done pretty well,” he said. “We have four running backs that we rotate in and out that do a pretty good job, with Dylan Dominguez being the top one.
Along with the sophomore, seniors Anthony Delucia and Patrick McCabe have gotten carries, along with junior Luke Blasko.
“We’ve been able to run and pass and keep the defense on their heels a little bit,” Yeagley said. “We can do a little bit of both. This is a good, hard-fighting team that gives it its all for 48 minutes.”
Spigarelli was impressed by the Raiders’ balance.
“They mostly go shotgun every play, with a tight end set,” he said, noting South Range junior Jake Gehring.
Senior Chris Brooks is South Range’s top receiver. junior Trey Pancake and senior Ian Toy also are in the mix.
Up front, South Range’s offensive line is anchored by center Rocco Delucia, a senior. Seniors Colin McCabe and Cade Holmes are the guards, with senior Isaac Less and sophomore Mike Lally the tackles.
Seniors Anthony Czap and Corey Kougher, freshman Bailey Ryan and Gehrig comprises the defensive line. Colin McCabe, Anthony Delucia and junior Michael Patrone are the linebackers.
Blasko, junior Luke Crumbacher and sophomore Cory Penick make up the secondary.
“They’re very fast and very physical,” Spigarelli said of the Raiders’ defense. “Looks like they only have a few kids going two ways, too.”
While South Range’s defense has been good the last month, Bellaire’s has been staunch, too. All told, the Big Reds have only allowed 20 or more points twice all season — both in losses. The 23 points allowed to Martins Ferry was the most allowed all season and, like last season, Spigarelli told his team to put that performance against its arch-rival in the rear-view mirror.
“We have to take the same attitude, same motto we took into last year going into our playoff games,” he said. “One way to fix the bad taste we have in our mouths by getting beat last week is to win our first playoff game and see what happens after that.”
Bellaire, making its 13th playoff appearance, has 19 postseason victories, tied for 13th all-time amongst schools that have never won a state title. Shadyside is third on the list with 31.
“They’re a very good team, my goodness,” Yeagley said. “They’re very well-coached and it’s a great program. They play well and they play hard.”
Prior to the Ferry game, the Big Reds stumbled just twice, in Week 2 vs. Garaway by a point and five weeks later vs. St. Clairsville against a Red Devils squad coming off two consecutive losses. In fact. Bellaire is unbeaten on the road this season.
“We’ve been really good on the road, for some reason or another,” Spigarelli said, adding he doesn’t know what the secret is.
The last three weeks, Bellaire has went 2-1 with Jake Heatherington under center. The freshman, who took over for the injured Bobby Roth, has thrown for 315 yards and three TDs. Spigarelli is confident the youngster is playoff ready.
“He’s a winner, and that’s what I like about him,” he said. I think he’ll handle this like any normal game.”
Behind him, Heatherington will depend on a running game led by senior Cole Porter, who’s rushed for 864 yards and 10 TDs. Andrew Kolenich and Ray Ray Pettigrew are also in the mix.
The receiving corps is led by Trenton Wilson’s 480 yards and three scores. A.J. McCarthy is another veteran.
(Jake) just needs to get the ball to his playmakers,” Spigarelli said. “We’re a senior-oriented team on both sides of the ball.”
That, the Bellaire grad and former West Liberty assistant, said, could give the Big Reds a bit of an advantage.
“All the kids got a taste in their mouths of winning a playoff game and going on to the next round last year,” he said. “But we don’t want to stop there. We want to keep going and win the region. That’s our goal right now.”
manning the offensive line for Bellaire are — sophomore Timmy O’Grady (C), senior Levi Littell (RG), senior Jacob Maupin (LG), senior Connor Rosen (LT) and senior David Lynch (RT).
Seniors T.J. Bell, Chase Nolan, Rosen and Quentin Baker make up the defensive line, with Littell and sophomore Ryan Muklewucz also seeing time.
“They’ve been doing an awesome job of controlling the line of scrimmage for us,” Spigarelli said.
Kolenich and junior Vinny Patrone have been in at linebacker, replacing the injured Sechrests — Colt and Trace.
McCarthy, Pettigrew are the strong safeties, with Porter at free safety.
“Their defense is unbelievable,” Yeagley said. “They fly to the ball and their interior guys do a great job.
“Our offense has to execute. We have to be able to run and we have to be able to throw it at just the right times to be able to mix it it well.”
While this trip year’s first round trip up Rout 7 will be a bit longer than last year’s, Spigarelli is confident his team can still come back with a W.
“I like our chances,” he said. “I think we’ll be prepared.”