That development in the Redmen attack has only proven disastrous for opposing defenses.
Francis showed off his ability to read blocks, shed tackles and find gaps once again Friday, shredding playoff newbie Pepper Pike Orange’s defense for 193 yards on the ground as Bellevue won in a 34-6 rout in a Division IV Region 14 quarterfinal. He had four scores on runs of 8, 8, 7 and 9 yards as the Redmen rushed for 355 total yards.
Bryce Ray chipped in 92 yards on 16 carries for Bellevue (8-3), which will get a much-anticipated rematch with Clear Fork (11-0) — a 44-0 winner over Clearview — in Friday’s regional semifinal. The Colts topped the Redmen 20–14 in overtime during Week 2 — a game Francis didn’t play in after suffering an ankle injury in Week 1.
“(Clear Fork) never got to see any Wildcat from us that game,” Francis said. “They’ll be expecting it. But since I never got to play them the first time, I’ll be hungry to get out there and compete. They’re a good team and it’ll be a tough game again.”
Francis capped a quick eight-play, 65-yard drive with an 8-yard scoring run to put Bellevue ahead 7-0 just 2:56 in. Ray did a majority of the carries, including a big 32-yard gain to the Lions’ 10-yard line, setting up Francis two plays later.
“Definitely, our line came ready to play,” said Francis if the opening drive set the tone for the game, said. “They executed and we played how we practiced all week.
“The first drive every game sets the tone for the game,” he added. “If you can put them down, then attack them when they’re down, the first drive is what gets us going.”
Ray gave the Redmen great field position with an interception on Orange’s first drive at midfield. And like the possession before, Francis took it in from 8 yards out to put his team up 14-0 at the 1:41 mark of the first quarter.
“I though we were really handling (the Lions) up front. We watched them on tape and really felt like we could be more physical than them,” Bellevue coach Ed Nasonti said. “Sometimes, though, you’re not sure. We were cautiously optimistic this week as a coaching staff I think, and it was the same way with the kids.
“Once you get out there, and you watch the flow of the game, it felt like we were the more physical team,” he added. “And I think the key is probably, we played some pretty good football teams this year. Our kids have been through the gauntlet, so I think that came up big, too.”
Defensively, the Redmen were just as stout up front.
The held the Lions — making their first playoff appearance since 1988 — to just 87 first-half yards. For the game Orange had 204 yards of total offense.
Lions quarterback Sean Borgman, who tossed for 1,269 yards in the regular season with a 57 percent completion percentage, was held to 98 yards on 10-of-19 passing. Most of those yards came in a late 59-yard TD strike to Pablo Garcia with Bellevue already ahead 28-0.
“The kids did a nice job running to the ball and tackling,” Nasonti said. “We know they had some big-play guys that had great speed. If you don’t do a good job in your secondary, they can burn you for.”
Bryce McMurray had an interception in the end zone for Bellevue touchback with 5:34 remaining, as the Redmen won the turnover battle, 2-0. They also held 1,000-yard rusher Jake Sonkin to 72 yards on 16 attempts.
Francis added 48 yards on two receptions in the pass game for the Redmen, who also threw for 89 yards on just six pass completions. His highlight catch of the two was a 33-yard gain he tipped to himself twice on the sideline.
“We run drills in practice to high point the ball and I basically just went there and got the ball,” he said. “I tipped it to myself probably twice and was able to still run with it.”
Bellevue led 21-0 at halftime. Kolten Henry upped the lead to 28-0 late in the third with a 4-yard TD catch from Riley Renwand.
“The big thing was I think our kids played like they practiced this past week,” Nasonti said. “It was a solid week of practice on both sides of the ball. I think they were enthusiastic and assignment sharp. Simply put, we played like we practiced.”