BELLWOOD - Haden DeGennaro turned 18 on Friday, but, if he received anything better for his birthday than interception he caught and the fumble he recovered in Bellwood-Antis' District 6 Class A semifinal in over Bishop Guilfoyle on Friday night, they weren't coming to mind quickly.
"I don't think so," DeGennaro said with a wry tone. "It was a pretty good one."
DeGennaro, a senior outside linebacker for the Blue Devils, turned in two of the biggest plays for a B-A defense that made many of them in the 19-6 win at Memorial Stadium, just the latest in a string of impressive performances for that unit this year.
The Devil defense, which held high-powered Richland to one offensive touchdown and shut out Northern Bedford and its potent passing attack, limited Guilfoyle to 185 yards. Bellwood didn't surrender a touchdown until just 5:23 was left on the clock.
"We were favored going into the game, but we had to put that aside and execute. We wanted to play just the way we played against Richland: give up no big plays and just play Bellwood defense," said senior linebacker Jeremy Campbell, the Devils' leading tackler coming in who had another big night, including a blocked field goal in the opening minutes to help set the tone.
Guilfoyle had scored at least four touchdowns - and run for at least three scores - in five of its last six games. The Marauders were capable of moving the ball with a variety of carriers; last week, D.J. Kitt rushed for more than 90 yards last week, Cody Rossman came in leading the team with almost 800 yards on the ground, and sophomore Brandon Chadbourn ran for a team-best for the season 166 yards in BG's season-opener.
Campbell, though, said none of those three players was the focus of the defensive game plan. He said that hinged upon containing crafty and elusive Marauder quarterback Pat Irwin. Irwin took over under center for Guilfoyle in the fifth game of the season after Chadbourn was injured and surpassed the century mark rushing three times.
"He's always moving around, just like Seth [Worthing, B-A's quarterback]," Campbell said. "If we could stop him, we'd be all right."
Bellwood used a couple of looks to try to combat Guilfoyle's better size up front and account for all the Marauders' offensive options. Things didn't look very promising at the start when Rossman went right up the middle and kept moving the pile downfield until he had a 23-yard gain.
"It scared me. It scared the crap out of me," Campbell said. "Everyone as a team just talked to everyone, said 'How bad do you want it?'"
After that, Bellwood began to get its defensive footing, and Campbell and Tanner Snyder each made tackles in the BG backfield to force a 30-yard field goal attempt. Campbell, who kicked a game-winning field goal in last year's semifinals against Bishop McCort, blocked the three-point attempt, though, and BG's long opening drive produced no points.
"If that hadn't have happened," Campbell said, "the game might have had a whole other turnout."
Campbell credited lineman Keith Shawley with clearing the way for him to block the kick.
"Defense is pretty much all a state of mind to me. I feel like you've just got to go hard every play, get past them. It's just a matter of how hard you want it," Shawley, who leads the team in sacks, said. "We've got some speed on our line. Nick Torsell isn't always in there, but, when he is, he's one of the quickest guys we have off the ball. We've got some height like Ethan [Hunter, a 6-foot-3 defensive end]. He does a pretty good job of sealing them in. And, whenever they do get outside, we usually have five or six guys on each tackle."
The game was a defensive struggle in the first half with neither squad holding a clear advantage. Guilfoyle twice stuffed Bellwood fourth-down attempts near midfield, putting the Blue Devil defense on the spot. Campbell turned aside one by tackling Kitt for a 7-yard loss at the B-A 30, then DeGennaro made his interception with 1:03 left in the second quarter and the Marauders at the Devil 25, threatening to tie or to go ahead.
"We realized this could be our last game. If we gave up on one play, then that could be the play of the game. You can't give up on plays. That's our motto," DeGennaro said. "We knew they liked to throw comebacks to [Damon Rickens] on third down. I saw Irwin's eyes light up, and I went right for it."
DeGennaro effectively iced the game when he recovered a mishandled Marauder hook-and-lateral midway through the fourth quarter, setting up Casey Gray's touchdown run that made it a three-possession game.
"We put will and determination on the field," Campbell said, "and it turned out good."