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Bellevue falls in state championship

Mark Hazelwood • Dec 3, 2012 at 11:31 AM

On the grandest stage, Bellevue needed one last comeback.

Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary, however, needed one last play.

In Saturday's Division III state championship game vs. Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary, it was the Fighting Irish making a handful more critical plays than the Redmen in a 42-21 victory at Canton's Fawcett Stadium.

Bellevue finished the best season in its 115-year history with a 13-2 record as state runners-up.

“We were never really out of it, and our defense was doing a decent job getting stops,” Bellevue coach Ed Nasonti said. “There was a point where they were trying to put us away and they didn't, they couldn't. That speaks volumes for our team and our program.”

In front of 9,101 fans, Bellevue opened the scoring in trickery fashion yet again. Faced with a fourth-and-5 at the SVSM 27-yard line, Redmen quarterback Jalen Santoro handed off to Dalton Jarvis, who flipped the ball back to Santoro.

The senior QB then fired deep to the end zone and hit Trent Stamm for a 27-yard touchdown pass and Jake Strayer's PAT gave Bellevue a 7-0 lead at the 4:29 mark of the first quarter. The score marked the third straight game Bellevue scored on a trick play.

Showing their quick score ability, the Irish (13-2) answered right back, as running back Parris Campbell went around the right side on the second play of the ensuing drive for a 47-yard touchdown run. Dylan Labbe's kick quickly tied the game at 7-7 just 30 seconds later.

Taking over possession at their 31 to begin the second quarter, the Irish marched 69 yards in seven plays, capped off with an 11-yard touchdown pass from Clayton Uecker to Fransoh Bickley with 9:04 left in the first half for a 14-7 lead.

But in typical Bellevue playoff fashion, the Redmen had an answer that included a pair of fourth-down conversions.

The Redmen put together a 15-play, 76-yard scoring drive that took 6:47 off the second quarter clock. On the drive, Bellevue had a fourth-and-3 at the SVSM 43 that saw Santoro find Dylan Fultz for an 11-yard gain. And finally, on fourth-and-5 at the SVSM 13, Santoro found Jarvis in the flat for a 13-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at 14 with 2:10 left in the half.

But with the dangerous Irish offense, that proved to be too much time.

Taking over at their own 45, the Irish took just six plays and 1:17 to cover the distance as Campbell ran for 27 yards on a third-and-1 at the Bellevue 28, and scored the next play with 44 seconds left in the half to give his team a 21-14 lead.

“We wanted to go in to halftime with the lead, obviously,” SVSM coach Dan Boarman said. “We were disappointed to give up that touchdown. We needed to put up a score to gain the momentum back.”

The third quarter went by quickly with each team trading a pair of possessions. Inside of two minutes remaining in the quarter, it appeared the Redmen defense had stopped the SVSM offense for a third straight possession, when the play of the game occurred.

With a fourth-and-7 at the Bellevue 41, SVSM's Newman Williams took the direct snap on a fake punt, and found nothing but running room and went up the left sideline. Just short of the end zone, he bulled over two Redmen defenders for the game-changing score to give the Irish a 28-14 lead with 1:05 left in the third quarter.

“I felt good at halftime, I thought we were in good position,” Nasonti said. “We had been down in three of our previous four playoff games, so no one on our sideline was panicking. But anytime you face a real good team, your margin of error is small. You have to take advantage of the opportunities when you get them.”

Things then went from bad to worse, as Santoro was intercepted on the ensuing drive near midfield. The Irish then faced another game-changing moment, faced with a fourth-and-3 at the Bellevue 5. Williams again got the call, and he appeared stopped right at the line of scrimmage, but the 215-pound bruiser pushed forward and plowed into the end zone for a 35-14 lead with 9:29 left in the game.

But the Redmen didn't go down with a fight, quickly covering 58 yards in four plays as Santoro threw deep down the right sideline and Derek Smith made an impressive leaping catch over a defender, and came down and pushed into the end zone on a 27-yard touchdown pass and catch.

That cut the margin to 35-21 with 8:40 left, but after an onside kick narrowly was recovered by the Irish, they put the game away on a 23-yard touchdown run by Campbell with 5:56 left.

SVSM got touchdowns rushing, passing and on special teams.

“That's been the beauty of this season,” Boarman said. “We haven't had to depend on one player or one facet of the game. But I'd like to give Bellevue a lot of credit, they kept hanging in there and hanging in there.

“It took us a while to finally ice this game. That's a very fine team, a well-coached team.”

Nasonti said Saturday was the first time in the five-week playoff run his team couldn't capitalize on opportunities on a consistent basis. Bellevue just missed coming up with a handful of turnovers, but in the end SVSM didn't throw an interception or fumble the ball away.

Conversely, Bellevue had three turnovers.

“That would have been nice, because we just missed getting a turnover a few times,” Nasonti said. “There was one early in the second half where the ball got loose and we just missed it. You hope you can make your own breaks, but sometimes you have to get them along the way.

“We didn't get them today. In fact, they kind of went against us with the punts that rolled for more yardage pinning us deep, the fake punt, things like that. But this was a good game played by two outstanding teams. Although we didn't get the outcome we wanted, I'm proud of the kids for playing hard against an outstanding team.”

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