WINGATE — A bad practice for Bald Eagle Area on Thursday night proved to be bad news for Bellefonte 24 hours later as the Eagles rolled over the Red Raiders 57-12 to retain possession of the Curtin Bowl.
The Eagles were coming off a 31-6 loss to Clearfield last week and their playoff hopes hinged, in large part, on what happened in the annual rivalry game with the Raiders at Alumni Stadium. And for most of the week, coach Jack Tobias said his team was focused. Until Thursday.
“We had our worst Thursday practice of the year,” he said. “I snapped on them for the first time this year, sent them on a nice little run. When they came back they were focused. I told them we can’t afford to overlook anyone on our schedule and that we had to beat Bellefonte. That was our first step toward the playoffs.
“It helped that this was Bellefonte and that it was Senior Night. That helped keep them focused.”
That was not a good thing for the Red Raiders, who had dropped a 49-7 decision to BEA to open the season.
The Eagles came out red hot and put 28 points on the board in the first quarter to settle this issue early.
The first time they touched the ball, the Eagles drove 75 yards in six plays, four of them runs by Dakota Bartley, who finished the night with 171 yards on nine carries. From the Raider 26, Jason Jones found Ryan Watkins in the left flat and he took it down the sidelines for a score with 7:47 left in the quarter. Tyler Schall’s extra point made it 7-0.
A 78-yard return of the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown by Doylan Deitrich was nullified by a penalty and three plays later the Raiders punted the ball away from their own 16. BEA put the ball in play on the 42 and Bartley took it in from there with 6:15 remaining to make it 14-0.
Another Bellefonte punt gave the Eagles the ball on their own 41. A 37-yard pass from Jones to Greene put the ball on the Raider 25 and from there Jones found Mitchell Struble down the sideline for the score. When Schall kicked the extra point the scoreboard clock showed 2:05 left in the quarter.
And BEA was not finished scoring. When Bellefonte was forced to punt on its next possession, the Eagles got the ball on the Bellefonte 49. Bartley carried three straight times, including one for 36 yards, and punched it in from the 3 with 13 seconds still to go in the quarter.
Things got no better for Bellefonte, now the owner of a school-record 16-game losing streak, in the second quarter. The Raiders were forced to punt the ball away on their next possession and Greene took it 70 yards for the score, a crushing block by Watkins getting him around the corner. Schall made it 35-0 at the 10:02 mark, putting the mercy rule in effect.
A high snap on a punt was downed in the end zone for a BEA safety on Bellefonte’s next possession but the Raiders held the BEA offense in check following the free kick. BEA had drive to the Raider 7 but a penalty pushed them back and Schall tried a 39-yard field goal that was wide right.
An interception of a Mark Armstrong pass by Struble, who returned it to the 1, set up a one-yard run by Kaleb Weaver and Schall added the extra point with 1:47 left, making it 44-0.
That was time enough for one more BEA score as Greene broke a 60-yard punt return with four seconds left to make it 51-0 at halftime.
“Once the special teams stuff starts going bad it’s tough to recover,” said Raider coach Shannon Manning. “And they have a bunch of great athletes over there and Jack does a great job coaching them. This is where it’s at right now.
“But we have a bunch of young guys who have had to step up and play varsity football and I’m proud of them. They play their hearts out every week and there’s no place I’d rather be.”
BEA scored the first time it touched the football in the third quarter when Struble scored from 21 yards out after Bellefonte fumbled a punt away to set up the score at the 8:42 mark. That capped BEA’s scoring for the night.
The Raiders got a 57-yard run from Austin Jackson at the 6:24 mark and Jackson added a two-yard run with 3:48 left in the game to end the scoring.
The Eagles rolled up 371 yards in total offense behind the running of Bartley.
“I wish we could get him a full game,” Tobias said. “I’d like to see him get the 200, 250-yard game but in games like this you can’t leave him in there. We‘re a different offense with him in there. (Bartley did not play in the second half). He had some nice, clean runs and when you look at those types of plays the blocking has to be pretty good. It was fantastic tonight. Guys like Hunter Hall, Dakota Rossman and Tanner Cramer, all seniors, did a great job. They don’t get credit very often.”
Tobias also handed out laurels to Greene for his kick returns.
“Electric, that’s the word that comes to mind,” he said. “Anytime he’s back there something big can happen. You look at him, he bobbles the punt a little, the blocking falls apart, but he gets to the corner, makes one guy miss and he’s gone. Once he gets to the corner it’s all over.”
BEA’s regular season will be over Friday when it entertains Ligonier Valley, then waits to see where it lands in the playoff pairings.
“The kids are excited,” Tobias said. “They know what’s at stake. We want to get the highest seed possible. It’s been a long, dry haul here since we’ve won a district playoff game.”