HUNTINGDON — The Bellefonte football team will keep searching for its first win.
But the Red Raiders know they are on the right track.
Bellefonte put together a solid ground game Friday night at War Vets Memorial Field, but a couple key turnovers turned the tide in a 28-20 loss to Huntingdon.
Two turnovers when they were driving for points, and two long Bearcat plays made all the difference.
“That’s what it gets down to,” Raiders coach Shanon Manning said. “Sometimes you feel like you were beaten, and sometimes you feel like you handed it away.”
Huntingdon (1-1) got 181 yards on 17 carries from Jon Wagner, with two scores including a 73-yard touchdown, and racked up 350 yards on the ground as a team.
Bellefonte (0-2), which has gone nearly two full years without a varsity football win, put up 320 yards on the ground, paced by 137 yards from Austin Jackson and 107 from Dillon Kephart. Each had a rushing touchdown, and Jackson also had a 75-yard kick return for a score.
“We moved the ball down the field,” Manning said. “It’s not like we came out here and got shut down.”
A few key moments had Manning wondering what might have been.
His team began the game moving the ball well, reaching the Bearcat 25 before fumbling the ball away. Two plays later Wagner was off on his 73-yard burst.
Late in the first quarter and trailing just 10-7, Bellefonte had reached the Bearcat 36 when quarterback Mark Armstrong was hit as he released a pass, the ball fluttered into the arms of defensive back Hudson Speck, who raced 82 yards the other way for a score with 17 seconds left.
“That was huge,” Bearcat coach Mike Hudy said. “Right now we’ll take any points we can get. It was a huge turnaround, a moral-booster. Any time you get a defensive score, it’s icing.”
Bellefonte also reached the Huntingdon 20 another time before stalling on downs.
“If you look at this honestly, they put together two drives tonight,” Manning said. “We moved the ball up and down the field, up and down the field, and we got things clicking late. We have a young team that hasn’t had a lot of success. Those little things make a difference.”
Hudy was glad to see his defense bend but not break near the red zone.
“We practice that, we take pride in it, we give them a little ‘rah-rah’ drill with it,” Hudy said. “We won a couple games last year with our goal line defense.”
Following the early romp from Wagner, Kodiak Heaton drilled a 37-yard field goal for a 10-0 lead early in the second.
Bellefonte answered with a 13-play, 72-yard drive capped by a two-yard Kephart run for its first score.
Wagner added another score in the third, running in from the 16.
Bellefonte began to rally when Jackson broke a jet sweep around the left end, with clear sailing just 10 yards down field, on an 80-yard run to pull within 22-14 with 7:08 left Huntingdon got another score on a 1-yard run from Jordan Oliver, closing a 74-yard drive that needed just seven plays.
The lead appeared safe again at 28-14, although Bellefonte blocked its second extra point try of the night.
But the Raiders were revved up again when Jackson took the ensuing kick 75 yards to the end zone. The margin was back down to 28-20, with a missed extra point kick.
The Bearcats used most of the remaining 3:21, with the Raiders getting three plays to try for a desperate score before the clock hit zeros.
“It was a touchy situation and we tried to stay positive,” Hudy said. “We told the guys, ‘You’re going to win this game,’ and they rose to the occasion.”
Manning opted to start Nick Jabco at quarterback for the first quarter, mostly running the ball, before sending in Armstrong for the final three quarters, and he may do the same down the road.
“I felt like he was really starting to take it personal,” Manning said of Armstrong’s psyche after the team’s Week 1 loss. “I wanted to take a little pressure off him.”