BELLAIRE - Coaches don't necessarily like calling the fourth game of the season a 'must-win,' but that's the situation Bellaire found itself in Saturday afternoon.
Sitting at 1-2 with a pair of Buckeye 8 road games lurking the next two weeks, the Big Reds needed a victory in the worst of ways against visiting Edison.
With the much-maligned defense coming up big when it had to and junior Hunter Westlake adding a pair of second-half touchdown runs, Bellaire (2-2) sloshed its way to a 26-12 victory against the Wildcats (1-3) at Nelson Field.
The Big Reds' quick-strike offense was responsible for three fumbles on the hosts' first three possessions. On each occasion, a receiver caught a short pass only to be stripped of the ball.
After the second miscue, Edison marched deep into Bellaire territory only to be denied on fourth-and-3 from the four. Bellaire's Ryan Callarik and Brendon Ross combined to stop the Wildcats' Ethan Shannon just short of the first down marker.
Three plays later, the Big Reds gave the ball right back on their third fumble.
Edison began at the Bellaire 24, but a pair of penalties prevented the Wildcats from moving any closer and turned the ball over on downs.
A 15-yard pass interference penalty on Edison gave Bellaire the ball at its 39. On the next play, senior quarterback Spencer Badia lobbed the ball down the sideline where classmate Nick Patrone caught it in stride en route to a 61-yard scoring play. The PAT was blocked, but the hosts had broken the ice with 5:24 left before the half and led 6-0.
The Wildcats responded when senior quarterback Nolan Marcus found classmate Devan Tennant on a crossing pattern. Tennant caught the ball despite a defender draped all over him and shed the tackler and raced into the end zone. The extra point was blocked as the teams went to the half deadlocked at 6-6.
When Bellaire emerged from its locker room to start the second half, the Big Reds had switched out of their rain-drenched and muddy jerseys, opting for the clean, warm black tops.
"We had three turnovers in the first half because the guys were putting the ball on their jerseys which were muddy, so we just thought more of getting them in dry jerseys," Coach Jose Davis said. "It had nothing to do with luck or anything like that."
It helped as the Big Reds didn't have a turnover in the second half.
"We've been working on cutting down our turnovers," he continued. "Our turnover numbers have just been atrocious in the first, obviously, four weeks. Crazy stuff happens when the weather is like it was."
On the fourth play of the third quarter, Badia executed a play-fake to perfection as the Wildcats secondary bit. Kenny Hess found his way behind the defenders and Badia connected with him for a 25-yard touchdown. Cody LaRoche's PAT was true, making it 13-6 with 9:25 on the clock.
A three-and-out by Edison led directly to the next Big Reds touchdown as Westlake completed a seven-play, 55-yard drive with an 18-yard romp up the middle. LaRoche was again good on the extra point, bumping the count to 20-6 with 5:59 showing on the clock.
Following a Bellaire punt, Edison took over at its 14 late in the third panel. Eighteen plays later, the Wildcats were facing a fourth-and-3 from the Bellaire 5, but a pass over the middle was knocked away by Patrone as the defense came up huge again.
"We're going to keep plugging away on defense. That's the way it is," Davis stressed. "The kids worked hard all week and it showed. Obviously, it wasn't the prettiest of wins, but a win is a win. You'll take it any way you can get it."
On the very next play, Westlake took a pitch from Badia and started around his right end looking for daylight. Following a couple of key blocks, Westlake found a seam and was headed down the far sideline. He was confronted by Edison's Carter Andreozzi at the Wildcats 35, but a quick juke left the defender lying in the mud as Westlake continued his way to paydirt. The PAT was wide right, but Bellaire had a 26-6 advantage.
The scoring jaunt tied for the all-time longest run in Bellaire's storied history. Ezan Ellsworth rambled 95 yards against St. Clairsville in 1989.
"Hunter has been pretty much quiet in the first three weeks," Davis admitted. "But he hasn't said a word or batted an eye because he hasn't been involved in the offense more. That shows what kind of character the kid has."
Westlake finished with 189 yards and the two scores on 12 carries. Bellaire managed 395 total yards as Badia completed 13 of 16 for 178 and two TDs. He hit on his first nine attempts before throwing an incompletion. Hess had five receptions for 73 yards, while Patrone snagged three for 84. Tyler West also had three catches.
The Wildcats concluded the scoring when Marcus ran 10 yards for a score after Tennant returned a kickoff 67 yards.