Red Raiders speedy running back and return man Austin Jackson had not seen a single kickoff go his direction all season.
“‘Well Austin, go back there and stand a little bit,’” Bellefonte coach Shanon Manning said jokingly to his player before the game. “‘You haven’t seen one all year and you’re probably not going to see one tonight.’”
Penns Valley would have been wise to maintain the status quo.
“(The ball) came off the kicker’s foot,” Manning said, “and I go, ‘Really? Really? Oh, well there he goes.’”
Jackson, untouched, went 80 yards to the house. Jackson and Manning were shocked. So too was the Penns Valley sideline.
The game’s opening play was not only a stunner, but it also set the tone for Bellefonte (2-5) as the Red Raiders captured a 30-7 homecoming win over Penns Valley (2-5) on Friday night at Rogers Stadium.
It was a job well done by Jackson. The home-run threat fielded the ball on the right hash, made his way across the field, identified a crease, and hit it, sprinting for the end zone.
Bellefonte tacked on a two-point conversion after the score, a one-two combination that Penns Valley coach Martin Tobias said “really put us back on our heels.”
It wasn’t the only damage Jackson did, either. The senior halfback totaled 144 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries, including a 44-yard touchdown.
Penns Valley responded to the opening kickoff, though. Later in the first quarter, quarterback Andrew Tobias connected with Ben Alexander on a wide receiver screen. It was a short throw but a long gainer, as Alexander found an opening and took it 90 yards for a momentum-leveling score.
That balance in emotion only lasted so long. On the next drive, facing a fourth-and-two in Penns Valley territory, Jackson corralled an inside handoff and scampered up the middle for his long touchdown run.
Bellefonte added another touchdown before halftime, too. With less than a minute on the clock, signal-caller Mark Armstrong completed an 11-yard play-action touchdown pass to Nick Jabco. It was one of just six attempts for Armstrong on the evening.
Penns Valley coach Martin Tobias said he was happy his team connected on the big play to Alexander.
“But they controlled the ball,” the coach said. “They controlled the clock. They controlled the line of scrimmage.”
Penns Valley came out in the second half and rattled off a couple of positive plays downfield, but an unfortunate injury changed the complexion of the game.
Rams quarterback Andrew Tobias was sacked by two Bellefonte players and hit the grass face-first. After remaining on the ground, he was placed on a stretcher and exited the stadium in an ambulance.
Martin Tobias said his son was moving on the ground: “He was fine that way. It was a safety thing.”
How did that play affect he and the team emotionally?
“They continued to play,” the coach said. “For me personally, it’s difficult to see any player who’s injured on the field. They’re all my kids.”
Manning, who, among other coaches and trainers, went out to midfield to check on the quarterback, said his players were concerned about Tobias’ health.
“Every kid over there was saying, ‘Is he OK?’” Manning said. “He’s another human being, doesn’t matter what team he’s on.”
As focus shifted back to the game, Alexander took over for Tobias under center. He completed a 52-yard pass to Corby Woodring, but the Rams couldn’t find much traction offensively. A week after rushing for 162 yards and two touchdowns, Rams running back Chase Collison only carried the ball seven times for 14 yards. As a team, Penns Valley netted minus-25 rushing yards.
Meanwhile, Bellefonte attempted only one pass the entire second half. The Red Raiders pounded the football, which resulted in the game’s final score, an 11-yard dash by Dillon Kephart.
Coming off three straight losses in which they were outscored 112-24, Manning said his players are glad to earn a much-needed win. That’s especially the case with next week’s game against Central (6-1) now looming large.
“We’ve got a huge task,” Manning said, “But every week is a new week.”