Fumbling deep in your opponent’s territory wasn’t exactly how Jason Jones wanted to begin his first series as Bald Eagle Area’s quarterback.
But following that first quarter mishap, the junior was nearly flawless, passing for 160 yards and three touchdowns and running for another score as the Eagles opened the season with a 49-7 romp over rival Bellefonte at Rogers Stadium on Friday night.
Dakota Bartley added 89 yards rushing and a stout Eagle defense held the Red Raiders to 105 total yards to ruin former BEA assistant Shanon Manning’s debut as head coach at Bellefonte.
Jones, who won a tight battle with teammate Tyler Schall for the quarterback job, didn’t find out until Monday that he would be the starter.
He and Bartley had the Eagles marching on their first possession, but a busted play led to Jones trying to run up the middle and Bellefonte shook the ball loose with Danny Caprio recovering at the Raider 1.
“You can’t start a game off fumbling on the 1-yard line,” Jones said. “You have to make it up on the next possession and we did.”
In fact, the Eagles would score on their next six possessions, with Jones’ strong arm playing a big part.
Bartley got the spree rolling, taking a pitch from Jones and running three yards around the right side to complete a five-play, 27-yard drive. Schall’s first of seven extra points made it 7-0 with 5:30 left in the first quarter.
Jared Shreffler’s fumble recovery and long return set up BEA with another short field and Jones converted four plays later, finding Bryce Greene, who made a beautiful catch in the left front corner of the end zone, just inside the pylon.
Jones was just getting started.
On fourth down from the Bellefonte 28, he fired a touchdown pass to a diving Shreffler on the first play of the second quarter as the lead grew to 21-0.
A 36-yard strike to a diving Bryan Greene helped set up Jones’ 1-yard sneak.
Then with less than a minute to play in the half, Jones found Bryan Greene once for a short gain, then found him in stride one play later for a 55-yard strike to make it 35-0 with 38 second left in the half.
“I was nervous at first, but as the game went on I got into rhythm and we played really well,” Jones said. “It was a good effort by the team and any time you beat Bellefonte it’s a good win.”
“I thought he handled it real well,” said BEA coach Jack Tobias. “I didn’t expect anything less from him.”
Jones finished the half 7-for-8, with six of the passes going to the Greene brothers.
“It’s the best feeling in the world,” Jones said of throwing to the twins. “They can catch anything you throw to them. You can throw up a ball and they can run it down 15 yards away. They’re just that good.”
BEA wasn’t finished scoring before the half. An interception by Bryce Greene gave the Eagles the ball at the 31. Trying to run out the half, BEA handed the ball to fullback Kaleb Weaver, who pinballed his way through the Red Raider defense for a 31-yard touchdown run with 13 seconds left.
While the offense was putting up big numbers, the BEA defense also stymied the Raiders running attack.
BEA held Bellefonte to just 34 yards rushing in the half.
“Our defense was lights out,” Tobias said. “Jordan Kobularcik at linebacker had a phenomenal game and our defensive line (Josh Fye, Levi Cramer, Tanner Cramer and Shreffler) pretty much played in the backfield all night. That’s what I expect of them. They’re big kids, strong kids.”
With the running clock going in the second half, both coaches emptied the benches. Both touchdowns were scored by the defenses.
Danny Caprio got Bellefonte on the board with a 34-yard interception return in the third quarter. Shane Kunes’ 3-yard fumble return capped BEA’s scoring in the fourth.
Despite racking up 268 yards on the ground, Tobias wasn’t entirely pleased with his offense.
“I expect more out of our offensive line than what we got tonight,” he said. “... Pass protection-wise, the O-line did a great job. Run-wise, I’m not really happy. We’ve got a lot of work to do this week.”
Manning says his team certainly will get to work, too. The Red Raiders had five turnovers Friday.
“We have a lot of young kids and we’re putting a lot of young kids out there,” Manning said. “This was Step 1 of our adjustment period. It’s a good Bald Eagle team. ... That’s were we need to get to and we know we’re at.
“The kids know exactly where they’re at and what they need to work on,” he added, citing offensive continuity and pass defense. “This is one of 10 games and you can’t necessarily judge a whole lot off a 10th of a season.”
BEA next hosts Philipsburg-Osceola, while Bellefonte hosts Huntingdon.