BELLAIRE - This time around, Catholic Central was on the right side of a decisive opening-game rally.
The Crusaders, relying heavily on their new look Loaded Pistol offense, reeled off 34 unanswered points to whip Bellaire 55-35 on a hot and humid Saturday at Nelson Field.
In the 2012 opener, the Big Reds rang up 25 in a row to pin a heart-breaking 44-42 setback on the Crusaders.
BIG?PLAY — Steubenville Catholic Central’s Khalil Jones runs down the right side for a 59-yard touchdown during the third quarter of Saturday’s game with Bellaire at Nelson Field. The Crusaders scored the final 34 points for a 55-35 victory.
-- Mike Mathison
"It feels good, it was our motivation all summer," Central's Steve Daley said. "This game is what we worked for. We wanted to start the season off with a win against a team that kind of took it to us the last couple of years (Bellaire ripped CCHS 63-27 in 2011).
"This win gives us a sense of mission accomplished. We know we still have a long season ahead of us, but it's big to start this way."
Central appeared ready to travel down "dj' vu all over again" road after Bellaire posted four straight touchdowns to overcome a 21-7 deficit and go on top 35-21 midway through the third quarter.
Catholic Central 55, Bellaire 35
Bellaire 7 14 14 0 - 35
Central21 0 7 27 - 55
C: Porreca 41 pass from Colabella (Romano kick)
B: West 3 run (LaRoche kick)
C: Romano 8 run (Romano kick)
C: Romano 10 pass from Colabella (Romano kick)
B: West 55 run (LaRoche kick)
B: Ross 2 pass from Badia (LaRoche kick)
B: Hess 5 pass from Badia (LaRoche kick)
B: West 2 run (LaRoche kick)
C: Jones 59 run (Romano kick)
C: Fletcher 1 run (Romano kick)
C: Fletcher 30 run (Romano kick)
C: Fletcher 47 run (Romano kick)
C: Jones 2 run kick blocked)
RUSHING: Bellaire 19-110-3 (Badia 6-(-23); Snell 2-6; West 8-103-3; Westlake 5-24); Central 35-254-6 (Colabella 8-2; Fletcher 9-101-3; Jones 9-114-2; Murphy 2-(-4); Romano 6-27-1; Potenzini 1-4).
PASSING: Bellaire 21-36-190-2-1 (all by Badia); Central 11-18-145-2-2 (all by Colabella).
RECEIVING: Bellaire (Patrone 4-67; Hess 5-34-1; Westlake 3-3; Ross 5-40-1; West 3-51; Keyser 1-(-1)); Central (Fletcher 1-9; Porreca 2-55-1; Barber 1-28; Fallon 1-15; Romano 3-2-1; Potenzini 2-6; Murphy 1-31).
FIRST DOWNS: Bellaire 17; Central 17.
PENALTIES-YARDS: Bellaire 6-40; Central 7-41.
PUNTS: Bellaire 4-31; Central 4-29.
FUMBLES-LOST: Bellaire 4-3; Central 0-0.
"We had a chance to put them away," said Bellaire head coach Jose Davis. "When you don't do that to a good team, there's always the chance that they can come back."
Instead of panicking, the Crusaders simply drew their Loaded Pistol.
Following Tyler West's 2-yard scoring plunge, Central went to work at its 31.
Senior quarterback Brenton Colabella connected with Stone Romano and Ryan Fletcher to give his club a first down at the 41. Khalil Jones took a Colabella handoff, broke two tackles, got to the outside and raced 59 yards to pay dirt. Jones' sprint was aided by a key block from senior wideout Johnny DiCarlantonio. Romano's kick pulled Central to within seven.
"Jones' run was huge for us," Daley stated. "He is an athlete and he is a player. I saw a whole new level of maturity from him today. He really took things on his shoulders.
"I'm happy for all our kids but I'm really happy for him stepping forward and doing what he did today."
The Crusader defense held on the next Bellaire possession thanks in part to pass deflections by Chris Murphy and Louis Fallon (who suffered a season-ending injury in the 2012 Bellaire game). Central moved 85 yards in 11 plays to knot the score. Fletcher went in from a yard away and Romano again was perfect with the point from placement.
Key plays on the drive were a 26-yard sprint by Jones, a pass from Colabella to Murphy for 31 stripes and Colabella scrambling for a key first down.
It didn't take Central long to regain control of the pigskin. On Colabella's ensuing kickoff, Fallon put a huge hit on the Bellaire receiver, forcing a fumble. Aleks Porreca pounced on the loose ball at the Bellaire 30. Fletcher delivered the big offensive play this time, escaping a few arm tackles and sprinting to the house. Romano converted his kick again and the Crusaders were head to stay at 42-35.
The fumble recovery on a kickoff was the second of the game for the Crusaders. Late in the first quarter, Cedro Parise fell on the ball at the Bellaire 21. His play led to the third Central touchdown of the day (a 10-yard pass from Colabella to Romano).
"The kids are taught to stay in their lanes on kickoffs," Daley noted. "They also know if that ball is on the ground, they need to get down and get it. Today, they did what they are taught to do and those recoveries were definitely huge for us."
"That can't happen in high school football," Davis said of the two muffed kickoffs. "We had three other fumbles, and you can't have that many and expect to win."
Jones made a huge defensive play on the next Bellaire drive. Spencer Badia, the Big Reds' talented senior quarterback, hit a wide open West for what would have been a big gain. Jones, however, stripped West of the ball, then fell on it at the Crusader 49.
Romano went up the middle for four before Fletcher traveled through once of those "big enough to drive a truck through" holes and sprinted untouched for the 47-yard score. Romano's kick put the Crusaders up 49-35.
A holding penalty nullified a 32-yard gain on Bellaire's next drive. Three straight Badia incompletions forced the Big Reds to punt from their own 14. The kick traveled just three yards and Central needed just two snaps to score the game's final touchdown.
Colabella and Fallon connected for 15 yards Jones then squirted through the line for his second TD.
"It was a matter of the kids keeping their focus and maintaining the right attitude," Daley said of the Central comeback. "I kept telling them we have a lot of game left and I knew we were going to make some stops. I think the defensive adjustments we made the half really paid off (Bellaire had 209 yards in offense during the opening half but finished with just 290).
"Once we drew even, I reminded them of the need to just win the fourth quarter (Central outscored Bellaire 27-0 during the stanza). We preach if you win that quarter, you're going to win the game. I felt it was close going into the fourth quarter, the things we have been working on would come through for us and they did."
Central drew first blood after Jones returned the opening kickoff 28 yards. Fletcher got 16 on a run up the middle. Colabella then scrambled out of trouble and found Porreca open in the flats. The senior wide receiver hauled in the toss and went 41 yards for the score.
Bellaire countered, marching 69 yards on its initial touch. West did the honors, going in from three yards away. Cody LaRoche booted the extra point (he was a perfect five for five on the day).
Central's third possession resulted in another two-play scoring drive. A Fletcher interception put the Crusaders in business at the Bellaire 36. Tony Barber gained 28 on a pass from Colabella. Romano then exploded up the gut for an eight-yard score.
West scored on a 55-yard burst off a draw play to make it 21-14. Badia and Ross hooked up on a two-yard TD to tie things up just before the half. A Badia to Kenny Hess put the Big Reds up 28-21 early in the third.
Central's first three touchdowns were two-play drives. The fourth took three snaps, the sixth just one, the seventh two and the final score another two. The Crusaders tied the score at 35 with an 11-play march.
For the day, the Crusaders rolled to 399 yards of total offense (254 on the ground and 145 via the air). Jones had 114 stripes and Fletcher 101. Colabella was 11 of 18 for a pair of touchdowns.
"We're a spread offense but we worked all summer on the Loaded Pistol," Daley noted. "We wanted to have a power running game for situations when we want to slow things down. To be honest, I didn't think it would produce that many points. I thought it would slow the game down and allow us to grind it out.
"It's unusual for us to have two 100-yard rushers but that goes back to my previous comments that we try to do what the defense dictates. We're finally to the put where we have kids in spots that allow us to do that. We can take control of a game no matter what the situations are and we did that today."
Badia, who passed for more than 900 yards during his first two games against Central, completed 21 of 36 attempts for 190. The Big Reds had 110 rushing yards.
Jake McCann paced the Central defense with two sacks (six total tackles) before leaving the game due to a heat-related illness.
"We got our athletes out there on defense," Daley added. "They are playmakers and we expect them to make plays. Today, they did."
Central returns to action Friday, traveling to Frontier. Bellaire, which leads the all-time series with Central 21-16-2, visits John Marshall the same evening.