Bellefonte coach Shanon Manning wrapped senior linebacker Stephen Kutches in a hug on the sideline as final minute of the team’s season opener ticked away.
The Red Raiders’ offensive players looked to the sideline and waved their arms to urge their fans to join in the celebration of their 17-13 win over Jersey Shore on Friday night. The coaches turned and waved their arms, too, before Bellefonte ran one final play to run out the clock.
The celebration continued as the players jumped and cheered on their way to the sideline after overcoming a 10-point fourth quarter deficit to open the season with a victory.
“I’ve played against these guys three years, and they beat us every year,” Kutches said. “I wanted this one so bad. It’s just amazing. It’s such a euphoric feeling.”
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The Red Raiders’ comeback started with Dylan Deitrich’s 55-yard touchdown run on a reverse on the first play of the fourth quarter, but it was Bellefonte’s defense that made the victory possible.
Bellefonte held Jersey Shore scoreless in the second half and limited the Bulldogs to a pair of long touchdown passes by Elijah Shemory in the first half. The Red Raiders recorded sacks at crucial points and recovered a pair of fumbles during the second-half comeback.
Deitrich set the tone for the defense with an interception on Shemory’s first pass of the game. The Red Raiders’ defense even set up the team’s lone scoring opportunity in the first half after Kutches sacked Shemory on third down for a 15-yard loss. After the ensuing punt and a penalty, Bellefonte had first-and-goal at the 8-yard line but settled for a 27-yard field goal by Chris Persiko with 3:39 left in the first quarter.
The Red Raiders offense managed just 19 total yards in the first half and trailed 13-3 at the break. The struggles continued in the second half before Deitrich broke loose for a 55-yard touchdown down the right sideline after taking a reverse handoff from running back Dexter Gallishaw.
“The blockers were unreal on that play,” Deitrich said.
Deitrich credited a block by Cade Fortney for setting up the game-changing run, and Fortney was among the first to greet his teammate with a shove in the end zone. The Bellefonte fans and sideline came to life as the Red Raiders pulled within 13-10 with 11:46 left.
Bellefonte appeared to be running out of time after punting the ball back to Jersey Shore with just more than six minutes to play. But seven seconds later, the offense was back on the field after Red Raiders linebacker Garret Kutches forced a fumble, and his brother Stephen recovered the loose ball.
“He should get all the credit for that one,” Stephen Kutches said. “I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.”
Four plays later, Bellefonte quarterback Nick Paloskey punched in a 1-yard touchdown run to push his team ahead 17-13 with 4:11 left.
And the defense ensured the Red Raiders held on for the win. Jersey Shore was 22 yards away from scoring the go-ahead touchdown, but the Red Raiders made one big play after another. Deitrich deflected a second-down pass intended for Jersey Shore’s top receiver Hunter Frantz, and defensive lineman Andrew Davidson pulled down Shemory for a sack on third down.
On fourth-and-21, Stephen Kutches recorded another sack to give the Red Raiders offense the ball to run out the final 2:50 and start the celebration.
“This football team wants to be physical,” Manning said. “We want to make it a boxing match. We want to have to stand toe-to-toe. That’s we want, and the kids I thought did a great job.”