BELLAIRE - In a game that featured nearly 1,000 yards of offensive fireworks, it was a key defensive stop late in the third quarter that allowed Bellaire to put a halt to St. Clairsville's long regular-season winning streak.
With the Big Reds leading 35-21, the Red Devils had swung the momentum in their favor when Colby Lindsay blocked a punt deep in Bellaire territory. However, Big Reds' defensive tackle Cody LaRoche stopped Jaylon Brown for a 2-yard loss on fourth-and-1, giving the ball, back to the hosts.
Bellaire promptly drove down the field, and LaRoche, of all people, banged home a 33-yard field goal as the Big Reds (5-2) were on their way to a huge, 38-28, triumph over the Red Devils (6-1) at sun-baked and crowded Nelson Field.
"This is a really big win for us as a program," Bellaire head coach Jose Davis admitted. "We told the kids (we needed this) that if they ever want to get to the upper top of the echelon, that's where they're (St. Clairsville) at. They've been there for many years now and you can see that by how long their winning streak was. They're gonna grind it out and battle you until the end.
"If you want to be mentioned as a good football team, now is your time," he continued. "I think they rose to the challenge."
The loss was the first in the regular season for St. Clairsville since Oct. 21, 2011 when Martins Ferry marched 99 yards for a game-winning touchdown, a stretch of 17 games.
"There's no excuses, we just got beat. They're a good team," St. Clairsville head coach Brett McLean said of the Big Reds. "We'll have to handle that and accept it. It's been a long time since we've been in this position during the regular season, so we'll see what type of character we have as a whole ... as a team, as a school, as a community. We've got to get back on track because Edison is pretty good."
Bellaire, which has been known for its pass-happy offense under Davis, amassed 565 yards of offense, but 327 of that came on the ground to 238 via the airways.
Brandon Laughman, playing in just his second game for the Big Reds after sitting out the first five due to the OHSAA transfer rule, rumbled for a career-high 215 stripes on 22 carries. Although he didn't reach the end zone, he made an impact.
"It feels really good to get into the Bellaire concept. It's a new offense to me and it took me a while to learn, but I've finally caught on to it," Laughman, who ran for 169 yards last week against Edison, said. "I'm the starting running back and it really feels good. Really good."
Bellaire's quick-strike offense went to work after forcing St. Clairsville to punt on the games opening possession.
A 30-yard hookup between Spencer Badia and Nick Patrone was followed by a pair of Laughman carries that picked up 25 more stripes. Badia then spotted Hunter Westlake all alone down the left hashmarks for a 30-yard scoring strike. LaRoche was perfect on the first of his five PATs, making it 7-0.
St. Clairsville answered with a 12-play, 63-yard drive that was capped by a 1-yard burst by Brown, the Youngstown State recruit. Zach Musilli knocked through the extra-point and the game was deadlocked at the 3:34 mark.
With Laughman running wild through the Red Devils defense, Bellaire marched right back the field. The 5-8, 185-pound junior lugged the leather five times for 51 yards. After he was caught for a 2-yard loss, Badia found Brendon Ross on a bubble screen left that resulted in a 5-yard scoring play and a 14-7 Bellaire lead.
Badia engineered another scoring drive to start the second quarter. The senior capped the 8-play, 80-yard march with a perfectly executed 20-yard pass to Ross. Badia lobbed the ball to the back right corner of the end zone where Ross made the catch over top of a defender and still got a foot down inbounds. LaRoche made it 21-7 with 9:14 left in the half.
St. Clairsville once again answered as Brown, who was sidelined last week with a knee injury, became the workhorse once again. He carried the ball seven times on the 10-play drive, capping it with a 2-yard sweep around left end. He had earlier converted a fourth-and-4 to keep the drive alive.
Bellaire seemed headed for another score as Westlake took over in the backfield. He ran for 42 yards to push the ball deep into St. Clairsville territory. However, on third-and-5, Badia ran for 13 yards, but was hit and fumbled as Jake Stewart came up with the ball for the Red Devils with 1:56 on the first-half clock.
Michael Monteroso and Malik Gummer teamed up on 24- and 29-yard receptions that moved to the Bellaire 18. On the second catch, the Big Reds were guilty of a personal foul, advancing the ball half-the-distance to the 9.
Monteroso then rolled right and lofted the ball to the end zone where Brendan Ferns hauled it in. Musilli's PAT drew the Red Devils even at 21 entering the half.
"We felt pretty good ourselves at the half," McLean explained. "We battled back and stuck one in the end zone there at the end of the half and we had all the momentum, but give them (Bellaire) credit, they came out the second half and drove the ball right down the field on us."
Laughman was once again the focal point as he carried three times for 33 yards before Badia and Kenny Hess combined on a 27-yard scoring strike.
Two plays later, Bellaire was back in business as Ross picked off a Monteroso pass that had skipped off Gummer's hands. Starting at the Red Devils' 30, Laughman moved the ball to the four on three totes before Badia dove in from there to bump the count to 35-21.
"Brandon's been a good workhorse for us in two games," Davis noted. "I'm just sorry that he hasn't gotten into the end zone yet. I know that he's not a selfish kid though."
Davis also wanted to give praise to his offensive line.
"They've continued to improve week after week," he said of LaRoche (center), Wyatt Back and James Dunfee (guards) and Seth Pickens and Robbie Kalinowski (tackles). "They really opened some holes today and pass blocked really good, as well."
Badia continued his march to 7,000 career passing yards. After throwing for 238 yards and four TDs on 16 of 23, Badia is at 6,876 in his two-plus seasons.
Monteroso also had a fine day throwing the ball. He completed 23 of 36 for career-high 270 yards and two touchdowns. He was also picked twice.
Brown ran 25 times for 106 yards and two touchdowns. He also caught five passes for 48 yards and another score.