Passing the torch: B-A always seems ready to reload
The Mirror will preview a high school football team each day until Aug. 22. For a complete rundown of all of the teams in the region, pick up a copy of “Blitz” at area newsstands.
Monday: Northern Bedford
BELLWOOD — Bellwood-Antis showed it can play with anyone in District 6 last season when it took Ligonier Valley down to the wire in the playoffs.
The Blue Devils return most of that squad this year with one major hole — they don’t have a single player on the roster who has attempted a varsity pass.
Junior Zach Pellegrine will be under center, taking over for graduated quarterback Trevor Miller, but Bellwood-Antis coach Nick Lovrich expects a smooth transition.
“He got as many reps last year at practice as Trevor did,” Lovrich said. “He got a lot of experience as the junior varsity quarterback, and football is team game. We’re not expecting Zach to go out and throw for 4,000 yards. I’m not really concerned that he doesn’t have a lot of experience. He’s got practice reps, and yes, it will be a little different that first Friday night against Tyrone, but Zach has a lot of confidence, and I think he’ll be able to adjust to that.”
Pellegrine will have plenty of weapons to throw to including Ty Noonan and Owen Shedlock among others.
“I think the offense is going to be very well rounded,” Noonan said. “We have a lot of offensive linemen coming back. We have experience in the backfield, and Zach has looked good throwing the ball in practice. We have some good targets for him.”
Lovrich said versatility will be key to competing with the area’s best teams.
“It makes you such a hard team to defend,” Lovrich said. “Teams can’t just stack a bunch of guys in the box, which teams have tried in the past because everyone always wants to stop Bellwood from running the ball. We can be balanced. Last year, we were probably 40 percent pass, 60 percent run. And some of the times we didn’t throw in games was because we were up by a good margin. Balance is our goal.”
As Pellegrine adjusts to the varsity game, he’ll do so with the comfort of knowing he has two backs behind him with 1,000-yard potential in seniors Zach Mallon and Nick Plank.
“I think it will help him a lot, especially with the experience that we have,” Mallon said. “Experience means a lot in high school, and he’ll be able to turn to us for that. Having us in the backfield will take pressure off of him. He won’t have to make as many big throws.”
Plank and Mallon won’t be the offense’s only security blankets.
“That experience definitely helps and goes back to the concept that the pressure won’t just be on (Pellegrine),” Lovrich said. “He doesn’t have to throw for a lot of yards with those two backs in the backfield and the line we have. We have three starters on the line coming back that started as sophomores, and that’s definitely going to help. He’ll feel protected by those guys, and we have some veteran receivers too.”
The Blue Devils entered their District 6 semifinal game against Ligonier Valley undefeated last season but many didn’t feel B-A was quite up to the same level as the Rams and eventual D6 2A champion Richland prior to the game.
That wasn’t the case after Bellwood-Antis took Ligonier down to the final minute before losing by a point in the Rams’ last season before they left District 6 for the WPIAL.
“We as a team and all of the coaches have to believe that we’re going to go out there and win every game,” Lovrich said. “I challenged our guys. Last year, we played our best game against Ligonier Valley. It’s unfortunate that we lost, but we have to come up to that level now and start there instead of starting where we did. Then we can concentrate on getting better each week, which is our goal.”
And getting better each week will prepare Bellwood-Antis for its ultimate endgame.
“We always want to win a district and ICC championship,” Plank said. “We have a good team coming back, and if we work hard we think we can get to our goals.”