For the first 44 minutes Friday night, the Bellefonte offense mustered just two first downs against a dominating Penns Valley defense.
But with the game on the line, the Red Raiders kicked into gear and left Spring Mills celebrating a 20-12 triumph in an overtime thriller over a Centre County rival.
Bellefonte (2-5) drove 88 yards over the final four minutes, scoring the tying touchdown with eight seconds left. They needed two plays to score with the first possession of overtime and then held the Rams (2-5).
“It means a lot,” said Bellefonte coach Shanon Manning, a Penns Valley alum, of the triumph. “No one handed it to us. We had to go out and we had to physically take it. ... They’ve had some success and we haven’t. We had to dig and scrap.”
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The prospects didn’t look good for the Red Raiders late in the fourth quarter, considering they had moved the ball so poorly. Of their previous two first downs, one came on Austin Jackson’s 23-yard touchdown run, but the breakaway back was now on the sidelines in street clothes after apparently suffering an injury.
Plus, Penns Valley was driving towards a clinching touchdown. Ben Alexander actually went into the end zone, but a holding penalty nullified the touchdown, Another false start hurt the drive, which ended with Alexander throwing high on fourth down from the 12.
“We were in the end zone and there’s a flag,” Penns Valley coach Martin Tobias said. “That takes us out of the end zone and at that point we were up 18-6. All of sudden you’re taking points off the board. You can’t afford to do that.”
The Red Raiders took over and immediately began moving the ball in a flexed wishbone. Dillon Kephart ran 11 yards on the first play and quarterback Chase Gardner completed a 22-yard pass to Dan Caprio. From there, the yardage all came on the ground behind Kephart (five carries, 41 yards) and Jabco (three carries, 23 yards). Gardner completed the march with a one-yard sneak with eight seconds left.
“When we were at halftime we talked about a couple of different options,” Manning explained of the turnaround. “We went to our second option and honestly we started running the ball right at them. We didn’t feel confident coming into the game that we could, but we started looking at what they gave us and we felt confident running right at them. Coach (Jeff) Vroman was all over the offensive lineman. They were called out and they rang the bell.”
Bellefonte had a chance to win it, but Matt Feldman’s extra point was wide left, sending the game into overtime.
The Rams won the toss and elected to go on defense, but Bellefonte needed just two plays to score. On second down from the 9, Tyler Kreger bolted around the left end on a jet sweep to score. Kephart, aided by a big push forward and behind from his linemen, added the two-point conversion.
Manning said getting the ball first was good for his team.
“It did work out for us because I think Penns Valley was doubting itself a little bit,” he said. “It’s different when someone hits a long pass on you. It’s different when someone runs 75 yards directly at you.”
Penns Valley’s turn from the 10 ended with a turnover. Three plays pushed the ball to the two. On fourth down, the snap was too high for Alexander to handle and the Red Raiders recovered to end the game.
The loss was frustrating for Penns Valley, which dominated the Red Raiders on the ground and in the air before the final minutes
“We left points out there that we could have capitalized on and didn’t,” Tobias said. “We hurt ourselves with two penalties that ended up backing us up that we had to take a deep shot in the end zone and didn’t get it. It did force them to drive the field, but they picked up some momentum. Bellefonte is a much improved football team. They’ve gotten better from week-to-week. It’s a credit to them to knock us off of the ball like they did.”
Jackson opened the scoring for Bellefonte after a poor punt snap gave the ball tothe Raiders at the Penns Valley 25. Jackson swept around the right end to make it 6-0.
That was Jackson’s final carry.
“When he went out of the game, it took us awhile to get all of the pieces where we needed to be,” Manning said. “Austin has never missed a rep. It took us awhile to get it figured out.”
Alexander scored both of Penns Valley’s touchdowns. He dove in on fourth-and-1 in the second quarter.
On the opening drive of the second half, Alexander hit Luke Bitsko, who turned a shot pass into a 51-yard gain to the Bellefonte 24. One play later, Alexander went around the right end and scored on an option play.
Aside from that play, the Bellefonte defense did a solid job against the Penns Valley quarterback, who had run for 384 yards in his previous home game.
“You could have asked our waterboy and he would have known where No. 17 was on every snap,” Manning said.
“They forced us to try to drive the ball,” Tobias said. “They didn’t give up many big plays.”
Alexander rushed for 87 yards on 20 carries and completed 13 of 19 passes for 126 yards. Chase Collison added 86 yards on 20 carries.
Kephart’s 56 yards on eight carries, all in the second half paced Bellefonte.
Bellefonte hosts Central next Friday, while Penns Valley plays at Chestnut Ridge.