Bellwood-Antis' defensive unit didn't need to be spectacular in Saturday night's District 6-A championship game in which the Blue Devils rolled to a 54-3 rout over Bishop McCort on Mansion Park's snow-specked field.
But on a night when McCort was penalized a dozen times for nearly 100 yards and committed five turnovers, the Blue Devils' defensive unit turned in a very solid performance.
McCort, which finished a 9-4 season, had averaged 38 points per game in its last four outings, including respective 32- and 45-point performances against Penns Manor in the quarterfinal round of the playoffs and 45 against Northern Cambria in last week's semifinal round.
But a Bellwood defense which has allowed an average of less than eight points per game in its last seven outings permitted McCort only a 30-yard, first-quarter field goal by senior Jordan Spangler Saturday.
"It was a great effort the whole way around,'' Bellwood-Antis defensive coordinator Bill Crowell said. "We tackled well, we adjusted to their formations, and the kids on the unit as a whole played very well.''
Bellwood-Antis senior Seth Worthing, who intercepted a pair of passes on defense, also broke up a third-down pass in the end zone on McCort's only scoring drive of the night, forcing the Crushers to settle for a field goal.
"Knocking down what would have been a touchdown pass was a big play for us there,'' veteran Bellwood-Antis coach John Hayes said. "After we kept them to a field goal, things began to separate from that point.''
Worthing, who also recovered a fumble, is a two-year starter at safety. His twin brother, Cameron, is a two-year starter at cornerback for Bellwood, which also features two-year senior starters Tyler Campbell at inside linebacker, Keith Shawley at defensive tackle, and Ian O'Shea at linebacker, as well as another two-year starting cornerback in junior Casey Gray.
"Our defense has been improving as the year has gone on,'' Seth Worthing said. "We've really stepped it up, especially in the secondary.''
Seth Worthing was quick to credit the play of Bellwood's defensive front, which includes Shawley and juniors Nick Torsell, Ethan Hunter and Kyler Maceno.
"Our line was great at flushing the run, and forcing their quarterback to throw,'' said Worthing, who had what would have been a 92-yard interception return for a touchdown nullified when Bellwood was called for a block in the back in the second quarter. "That let me come up and make a couple picks.''
The Blue Devils' defensive unit practiced well all week, according to Campbell.
"It all starts in practice, and we worked our butts off in practice this week,'' he said. "Tonight, there were 11 guys to the ball every time. Allowing [just] three points in the district championship game is unbelievable.''
That kind of cohesive effort allowed Bellwood to erase the gloomy memories of last year's loss to Penns Manor in the District 6-A championship game and move on to the first round of the state playoffs next Friday night against Delone Catholic at Mansion Park.
"Tonight definitely makes up for everything that happened last year,'' O'Shea, a 6-2, 190-pound linebacker, said. "We've put in a lot of hard work this year.''