When Bellefonte coach Shanon Manning sat down with his team at the beginning of the season, a list of goals went up on the board.
The very first of those goals was simple: Win the County.
Coming off an 0-10 season, beating Philipsburg-Osceola, Penns Valley and Bald Eagle Area was a lofty goal for the Red Raiders.
But after Friday’s annual Curtin Bowl clash, it was mission accomplished.
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Bellefonte unleashed a potent ground game in the second half, racking up 241 rushing yards and three scores as the Red Raiders rolled up a 28-7 triumph against the Eagles.
Nick Jabco rushed for 121 yards on eight carries and Austin Jackson added 100 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries as Bellefonte brought home the Curtin Bowl trophy for the first time since the 2010 season. The Red Raider defense held BEA’s offense scoreless after the Eagles’ Mitchell Struble returned the opening kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown.
“I can’t tell you how big it is to win the county games,” said Manning. “To get Philipsburg, Penns Valley and Bald Eagle, that’s just huge.”
“To win the county this year, that was our No. 1 goal,” added Jackson, who scored on runs of 39 and 5 yards in the second half. “We did it.”
The Red Raiders didn’t give much of an indication they would be able to do much offensively in the first 24 minutes. The BEA defense held Bellefonte to just two first downs.
But the Red Raiders took the second half kickoff and marched 62 yards on seven rushes. Jackson had 56 yards on the drive, including the final 39. He took a handoff on a jet sweep to the right, cut back to middle and blew through the BEA secondary. Matt Feldman’s extra point tied the score at 7-7 with 8:12 left in the third quarter.
“That was nice,” Jackson said. “I cut it back and it was wide open in the middle. There was no one there.”
Having Jackson on the field was huge for the Raiders. The explosive back suffered a concussion in the first half against Penns Valley in Week 7 and had not played since.
“I was so upset,” Jackson said of the injury. “I was so happy to be back for the last game. It was insane. I had to go all out. I put my head down a couple of times because I had to. If there was any game to get back to, this is the one against Bald Eagle, our biggest rival.”
Jackson’s presence made a difference.
“It immediately gives you a legitimate threat to the perimeter,” Manning said. “Once you can establish him, all of the misdirection comes from the other ways and it opens up.”
Bellefonte’s counter plays were the difference. Jabco had 97 yards and Dillon Kephart added 42 in the half.
“We have worked very hard to change the entire culture in Bellefonte,” Manning said. “We want to be a run-first football team. We want to be physical and we want to finish games strong. That’s not something we’ve always done in the past.”
“The first half, we were closing the gates and making plays,” BEA coach Ron Hoover said. “In the second half, they just hit those seams up inside there on those counter plays. We couldn’t get there and that’s what hurt us, big chunks of yards on the rush.”
After Bellefonte tied the score, BEA drove to the Red Raider 15 on its next possession. A fumble, recovered by Isaiah Hahn, ended the march.
“The fumble in the second half hurt,” Hoover said. “We were moving the ball and controlling the clock. A fumble on the handoff was an unforced error.”
The Red Raiders needed just six plays to drive 81 yards to go ahead. Jabco had a big 19-yard run on third down and uncorked a 47-yard jaunt down the left sideline to the BEA 5. Jackson finished off the drive from there with a sweep right to make it 14-7 with 10:14 remaining.
Tyler Kreger’s 25-yard run keyed Bellefonte’s next drive, a 51-yard march that culminated with quarterback Mark Armstrong’s one-yard sneak to make the score 20-7
The Red Raider defense accounted for the final score as Kreger picked off a screen pass and raced 32 yards for a touchdown with 3:27 left. Dan Caprio caught a two-point conversion pass that touched off some fisticuffs.
BEA received three personal fouls on the play and Bellefonte actually kicked off at the Eagles’ 15-yard line. A Bellefonte player was ejected later in the game as the rivalry got heated.
The Eagles couldn’t have started better. Struble grabbed the opening kickoff and burst through a gaping hole in the middle, cut right to the sidelines and raced untouched for the 90-yard score. Jared Ishler’s extra point made it 7-0 just 14 seconds into the game.
BEA had the opportunity to extend the margin, but failed after a massive 21-play drive ended with two incompletions from the Bellefonte 5.
Bellefonte’s defense, fueled by Kephart, Hahn and Kreger, made the big plays the rest of the night.
Struble turned in an outstanding effort, with 119 yards on 27 carries.
BEA finished its season 2-8.
“It didn’t go the way we wanted it to go,” Hoover said. “Hopefully, we can get that changed around and get that back on track again in the offseason. We’re proud of the way our seniors played.”
Manning said his club didn’t reach all of its goals, but was pleased with the program’s rebound from a winless campaign in which they were blown out in most games.
“To go from non-competitive to three wins, it may seem small to a lot of programs, but for us it’s big,” the second-year coach said. “This is huge for us next year.”