Drenched and chilled from the rain that had fallen most of the game, the Bellefonte football team huddled together one last time on the Mansion Park turf.
Coach Shanon Manning had a lot to say, concluding by telling his team, “Bellefonte football is here to stay!”
The stunning season put together by the Red Raiders came to a crashing end Saturday as they were drenched 37-3 by Selinsgrove in the PIAA Class 4A first round.
Depleted by injuries to three key senior leaders, including quarterback Dylan Deitrich, the Red Raiders (10-3) just didn’t have enough to keep up with the Seals’ aerial attack.
“There’s no excuse to be made,” Manning said. “We didn’t win today, we weren’t the better team today. Sometimes that’s how it ends.”
Seals quarterback Logan Leiby was 12 for 17 for 238 yards and three touchdowns, adding another score on the ground, to lead them to the state quarterfinals next weekend against Bethlehem Catholic.
“All of them did a heck of a job tonight,” Leiby said, passing credit to his offensive line. “When they give me the kind of time like that, it’s getting easy.”
Ricky Cope was the big recipient of those passes, catching seven for 208 yards and three scores.
The loss of Deitrich was compounded when running back Dexter Gallishaw, who had turned his ankle last week, was helped from the field in the second quarter. He did return to his linebacker spot after halftime, but did not return to the offensive side. Leading wideout Cade Fortney also was hobbled all week in practice and did not see much time on offense.
Deitrich had six carries for 26 yards before his departure, and Gallishaw managed four rushes for 15 yards.
Nick Paloskey, who began the season as the starter, filled in at quarterback and rushed for 91 yards, and Bellefonte picked up 194 yards of offense in the game, but the Red Raiders managed only a field goal in three trips into the red zone.
“We definitely gave up some yards,” Selinsgrove coach Derek Hicks said. “They moved the ball at times, but we kind of preach to the kids, ‘Hey, plays are going to happen, especially at this level. Bend a little bit, don’t break, don’t give up the points.’”
Bellefonte got the game’s first break, when Paloskey, at defensive back, drilled Seals receiver Josh Nylund right after he caught the ball. The ball popped into the air and CJ Funk landed on it at the Seals’ 31.
The Raiders drove to the 13, but on third-and-3, Deitrich took a hard hit just as he released the ball on a screen pass and was driven hard to the ground. He was helped from the field and straight to the locker room.
“It just made us want to win the game that much more,” senior Stephen Kutches said of the feeling on the field after the injury.
However, they all knew losing their starting quarterback to a collarbone injury, with all the other injuries they were battling, made the mountain even tougher to climb.
“We lost the wind out of our sails when Dylan got hurt,” Manning said. “We never really recovered.”
Chris Persiko hit a 30-yard field goal on the next play to give the Raiders the early lead — and what turned out to be the team’s only points.
Bellefonte then attempted an onside kick, but Selinsgrove fell on the ball, and on the next play Leiby hit an open Cope up the seam on a scoring connection of 53 yards.
Joe Kahn, who finished with 24 carries for 129 yards, added an 11-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter, then Leiby connected with Cope on the same play up the seam for a 64-yard score. Hicks thought his team would have that play available today against the Bellefonte defense.
“Ricky ran a heck of a route there, broke a safety down which we thought we could do from watching film and stuff,” Leiby said. “Props to him for being the athlete he is and the player he is for us.”
Leiby hit Cope again on a 44-yard strike in the fourth, sandwiched by Blaise Zeiders tackling Paloskey for a safety and a four-yard Leiby scoring run to set the final total.
Even if their storybook season ended Saturday, the Red Raiders know they put together an impressive year.
“Looking back at the season, we couldn’t be happier,” Kutches said. “District champs, Mountain League champs, first in Centre County — I’m not sad at all.”