MILL HALL - The announcers from the northeastern Pennsylvania television station broadcasting Friday night's PIAA Class A semifinal football game at Central Mountain High School remarked numerous times about how impressed they were with Bellwood-Antis' speed and hard-hitting.
Blue Devil linebacker Tyler Campbell and his teammates, though, left as big a mark on their program's rich history as they did on opposing players.
Even while the sting of Dunmore's 40-19 win that ended Bellwood's season at a rain-drenched Malinak Stadium still was fresh, Blue Devil players were able to recognize and take pride in a long list of accomplishments that put this team on the short list in the discussion of the best the school has ever produced.
"It's just an honor to be a part of one of the best Bellwood-Antis football teams that'll ever be around," Campbell said, fighting back tears. "To be right up there with Josh Kleinfelter and Devon Clapper - those guys were great - it's an honor to be up there with them."
Kleinfelter and Clapper were key performers on the last Blue Devil team to make it this far in 2006, back when Campbell and his fellow seniors were watching as sixth graders. The only other Bellwood-Antis team to reach this point was the 1988 edition. None made it further.
"I feel really proud of what we did. Compared to other Bellwood-Antis teams, we're up there near the top. It means a lot to be a part of one of the best teams ever at Bellwood-Antis," said senior tight end/linebacker O'Shea.
It also was the sixth B-A team to win a District 6 championship, bouncing back after losing in the finals last year.
"It was an outstanding season," Coach John Hayes said. "From the very beginning, through the regular season and the playoff run, you look at it, and you're one of the top four teams left in the state, and you have to be very proud of that, which we are."
This year's Blue Devils matched some of Bellwood's greatest teams from the past, but it also set some standards all its own. The Blue Devils tied the school record for wins in a season with 13 and established records for total points (492) and total yards (5,268). Junior tailback Casey Gray posted the third best rushing season ever for the Blue Devils, running behind a line that included just one senior and one player weighing more than 220 pounds.
"I feel real good. Everyone was expecting the line to be one of the weak spots, but, with us being so small, we can step it up and compete with bigger kids," guard/defensive tackle Keith Shawley said. "We've got really good running backs. Casey's one of the best running backs I've ever seen. We've got a lot of really good athletes. We've got play-makers. Ian O'Shea, coming back from injury, was a big player for us. Haden DeGennaro, it's a bummer [he couldn't play after breaking his leg in the state quarterfinals]. He averaged almost 10 yards a carry. We had a really good quarterback [Seth Worthing]."
"I'm even surprised at how good we did. I wasn't expecting that," Worthing said. "I wasn't expecting to win districts, honestly. I was expecting maybe something like last year. It really surprised me. It's wonderful."
The Blue Devils not only won the district title, they won it convincingly over perennial nemesis Bishop McCort in one of the most dominating District 6 finals performances ever, 54-3. However, for the Devils, it was hard to pick between that game or their season-opening win against Tyrone for their favorite moment of the year.
"That's pretty tough," Shawley said. "For my senior year, the first goal I wanted was to beat Tyrone. I lost to them as a sophomore, as a junior. It felt like 'This is my last chance. I've got to beat them.' And we pulled it out. They've got a really good football team, and I give them a lot of credit. But we were able to win this year."
It's a rare choice for Blue Devil players to have to make. The only other time B-A was able to win both the Backyard Brawl and District 6 was in 1988.
"It's the first game, but it's also a special game," Campbell said. "It gave us confidence. It showed us what we could do."
Campbell and Dan Beech keyed a defense that held 11 teams to two touchdowns or less from their inside linebacker spots, while Cameron Worthing gave the Devils a big-play threat at receiver with five touchdowns. The seniors will be missed, Gray said.
"They're all my best friends," Gray said of the seniors. "I just learned to never give up and love everyone on your team as though they were your family."
The 2012 Blue Devils leave some big shoes. However, the 2013 Devils have the advantage of having a lot of the same players to come back and fill them.
Hayes started six underclassmen on offense against Dunmore and five more opened the state semifinal on defense. That doesn't even include junior Owen Worthing and freshman Jake Burch - both engineered drives filling in at quarterback after Seth Worthing was injured early - and Josh Gates, who started at tight end for the first half of the year when O'Shea was banged up.
"All those guys are going to be stepping up," Shawley said. "I expect a lot from them. I think they're going to do a really good job."
"The experience will definitely help us next year. We know what it takes. We know how to act," Gray said. "Hopefully we can do the same next year, or even better."
This year's team left them something to shoot for, as well as all future Bellwood football teams.
"It's nice that kids will be looking at our records and trying to beat them," Seth Worthing said. "Just knowing that I'm setting the bar higher for them means our team had a lot to feel good about."