BELLWOOD - It's a good bet the District 6 Class A high school football field knows that top-seeded Bellwood-Antis is going to be a tough draw when the playoffs open next weekend.
With the Blue Devils going down to the wire with top-seeded Class AA Richland Friday night, things may have gotten even a little tougher.
With both teams putting 9-0 records on the line, Richland turned a turnover into a touchdown, and then played enough defense when it mattered to deal the Blue Devils a 14-7 setback in the final regular-season game for both clubs.
Mirror photo by J.D. Cavrich
Bellwood-Antis’ Tanner Snyder watches while Richland’s Kyle Flick intercepts a pass intended for him on Friday night in Bellwood. Flick returned the pass 37 yards for one of Richland’s two touchdowns.
Bellwood-Antis will host either Glendale or Blairsville next Friday, while Richland will host either Penn Cambria or Juniata.
"Being undefeated was never one of our goals, but it certainly is a great opportunity," Bellwood coach John Hayes said. "It hurts because we didn't win, but the way we played ... I know there are no moral victories, but we played toe-to-toe with an extremely good football team and we just came up a play short."
Neither team scored in the first quarter, a quarter that featured turnovers by both clubs. Richland quarterback Matt Shaffer was picked off by Casey Gray on the first play of the game. Gray returned the favor later in the quarter. Bellwood had the ball at the Richland 6, but Gray fumbled as he ran toward the goal line. The Rams got the ball back at the 1 with 2:14 to go in the quarter.
Richland tried a fake punt on its own 20 to start the second quarter on a fourth-and-three and was stopped by the Bellwood defense. However, the Blue Devils ended up losing 11 yards on the series in turning the ball back over on downs to the Rams.
"Coming in, knowing there was no playoff seeding on the line ... we were probably too aggressive with our play calling," Richland coach Brandon Bailey said.
"We missed a couple of opportunities that could have made things different, especially in the first half with that turnover down there. That's just part of football," Hayes added.
A 5-yard punt hurt the Blue Devils towards the end of the first half, as Richland set up shop at the Blue Devil 38. It took the Rams just three plays to score as tailback Dominic Farina scored on a 5-yard run with 1:24 to go on the clock. The PAT kick was blocked and Bellwood trailed, 6-0.
"Dominic might not be a starter, but we value him as a starter," Bailey said.
Behind quarterback Seth Worthing, who attempted 24 passes in the game, the Blue Devils marched from their 35 down to the Richland 8 in the final moments of the first half. On a third-and-goal, Worthing rolled left, but because he was escaping the rush, he did not have time to set and throw the ball.
Worthing threw the ball toward tight end Ian O'Shea, who was open on the play. He was in the end zone, but had to come back for the ball. He dove and caught it at the 1-yard line, but time expired leaving Bellwood with an empty feeling on offense again.
"We didn't capitalize on some things. We missed making a big play when we needed it but sometimes you have to tip your hat [to the other team]. They were probably most responsible for that," Hayes said.
Bellwood scored on its first drive of the second half, going 60 yards in six plays, all on the ground, as Haden DeGennaro scored on a 31-yard run. Tyler Campbell's PAT kick made it 7-6.
Bellwood forced a punt on Richland's next possession, and this time, Richland's defense stole the spotlight. On a second-and-9 from his own 34, Worthing was picked off by Kyle Flick who returned the interception 37 yards for a touchdown. The ball was tipped off the receiver's hands. The two-point conversion pass was good and the Rams led, 14-7, with 4:53 to go in the third.
"I was just hoping [Fleck] would make it to the end zone," Bailey said. "We were excited to come over here and play a storied program like Bellwood in a great atmosphere and get the win."
Richland punter Nico Pecora made a big play with a punt that pinned the Blue Devils at their own 1 with under five minutes to go in the game. However, behind a little bit of running and some big passing, the Blue Devils got the ball down to the Richland 33.
"Once we got the lead, we decided to rely on our defense to win the game," Bailey said.
On fourth-and-14 with 1:12 to go in the game, Worthing was picked off for the third time to end the Blue Devils' night.
"We have a great chance to come back next week and play again," Hayes said. "Any athlete after a tough loss wants to chance to go back out on the field, and from what I heard from our kids [after the game], it leads me to believe we will be ready."
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Richland0 6 8 0 - 14
Bellwood-Antis0 0 7 0 - 7
R-Farina 5 run (kick blocked), 1:24
BA-DeGennaro 31 run (Campbell kick), 9:36
R-Flick 37 interception return (Metzgar pass from Shaffer), 4:53
RUSHING: Richland-Solarczyk 8-26, Shaffer 8-42, Pecora 1-10, Hoover 1-2, Farina 9-43, TEAM 2-(-2). Bellwood-Antis-Gray 17-70, Campbell 8-32, DeGennaro 8-61, S. Worthing 8-(-23).
PASSING: Richland-Shaffer 4-9-2-25, Pecora 3-9-0-21. Bellwood-Antis-S. Worthing 13-24-3-162, Gray 0-1-0-0.
RECEIVING: Richland-Shertzer 2-32, Rizzo 1-4, Flick 1-11, Solarczyk 2-1, Snapko 1-(-2). Bellwood-Antis-C. Worthing 2-10, O'Shea 3-35, DeGennaro 2-44, Campbell 1-(-6), Gray 4-60, Snyder 1-19.
INTERCEPTIONS: Richland-Shertzer, Flick 2. Bellwood-Antis-Gray, C. Worthing.