Even after Bellefonte throttled Clearfield last week to open the playoffs, wideout Cade Fortney thinks the Red Raiders still have yet to perform at their best this season.
Fortney said his team could have played better, calling the first two quarters “a little shaky” and adding the Red Raiders had some defensive issues throughout their 62-21 win over the Bison. It was Bellefonte’s most decisive victory in a year filled with blowout wins, but Fortney and his teammates believe they’re capable of more.
“I think we can beat any team if we all play at our max potential,” Fortney said.
The Red Raiders (9-2) are pushing each other to move closer to reaching that potential going into the District 6 Class 4A championship against Johnstown (8-3) at Hollidaysburg’s Tiger Stadium on Friday night. Bellefonte is looking to win the program’s first district championship since 1999, a goal the team talked about back in January during winter workouts. The Red Raiders are excited about the opportunity, but they’re trying to keep their focus on improving and preparing for Johnstown heading into Friday night.
The top-seeded Red Raiders know they’re in for a challenge against the third-seeded Trojans, who are the defending district champions. Johnstown also won the district championship in Class 3A in 2015 before the PIAA expanded to six classes last season.
“We’re not Johnstown,” Bellefonte coach Shanon Manning said. “We haven’t won it like they did last year, so for us, it’s all a learning experience. For them, it’s old hat.”
Still, this Bellefonte team has repeatedly made history in impressive ways this season. The Red Raiders beat Central for the first time since 2010 and Clearfield for the first time since 2007 during the regular season. And they cruised to both wins, crushing the Scarlet Dragons 49-22 and dominating the Bison 55-28. They then shredded Clearfield again in the District 6 semifinals last week.
“We knew we had a pretty good game against them in the regular season, but I also think that we knew that that was one of the better games we played,” Fortney said, “so we wanted to try to match that physicality, effort that we had.”
The Bellefonte offense rolled into the championship game with the same rushing attack that fueled its run to the Mountain League title. But as Fortney said, the Red Raiders made mistakes on defense against Clearfield, including allowing a 90-yard touchdown pass in the first half. That leaves room for improvement heading into the championship team against Johnstown.
“There’s some things that we’re going to have to fix,” Bellefonte running back/linebacker Dexter Gallishaw said. “They’re not like any other team we faced.”
Gallishaw said Johnstown is faster than the Red Raiders’ previous opponents. Manning offered the same breakdown, saying Johnstown boasts “more athleticism than we’ve had to deal with all year.”
Manning is well aware of the Trojans running back Trevon Fields (team-high 562 rushing yards; five touchdowns) and wide receivers Imil Britt (team-high 493 receiving yards; six touchdowns) and Darrian Berkins (451 receiving yards; four touchdowns). They surround quarterback Austin Barber, who has thrown for 21 touchdowns and seven interceptions while rushing for 439 yards and 12 touchdowns.
“He’s a dual-threat,” Manning said. “He’s a physical, physical kid. He’s good in the pass game; he’s good with his legs. He just does a good job, makes good decisions. He doesn’t put the ball in harm’s way a lot.”
The Red Raiders know they’ll be facing a talented team as they aim to make history once again. They’ve been working toward this game all year, and they’ve had “very lively” practices this week. Fortney has approached drills at practice as if he’s playing to win the district championship Friday night.
“I don’t think I can even explain what it’d be like,” Fortney said. “Because it’s not just a win for us, it’s a win for our program, a win for our community.”
District 6 Class 4A Championship
Bellefonte vs. Johnstown
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Where: Hollidaysburg’s Tiger Stadium
History: Bellefonte — The Red Raiders are looking to win their first district title since 1999; Johnstown — The Trojans are looking to win their third straight district championship
Players to watch: Bellefonte QB Dylan Deitrich — Deitrich leads the county with 1,340 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns. He’s also thrown for 11 touchdowns and six interceptions; Johnstown QB Austin Barber — Barber ranks second on the team with 439 rushing yards to go with a team-high 12 rushing touchdowns. The quarterback also has 21 passing touchdowns and seven interceptions.