The Bellevue-Shelby series has seen it all throughout seven decades of Northern Ohio League football — and now the Sandusky Bay Conference.
But for the first-time ever, the two programs will meet in the playoffs — and on the line is a trip to the Division IV state semifinals when the Redmen (9-3) face the Whippets (12-0) in Friday’s 7:30 p.m. Region 14 championship game at Community Stadium in Ashland.
Bellevue holds a slight 37-35-2 lead in the all-time series. The two programs finished first and second (24-20) in NOL football titles prior to this season.
“The fact we’re playing Shelby is neat, but for us it’s about an opportunity to get to the state semifinals for a fourth time,” Bellevue coach Ed Nasonti said. “We’re proud that we’re one of eight teams left, and we want to take that next step.
“Our practices over last month have been outstanding,” he added. “The kids are having fun and have been enthusiastic at practice. We’re enjoying this.”
And, for the second straight week, Bellevue will get the opportunity to right one of three wrongs on the schedule this season.
The Redmen lost 20-14 in overtime at Clear Fork in Week 2 on Sept. 1, but then last week at Mansfield, turned the tables. Bellevue won that game, 21-13, handing the Colts their first loss and ending their season in the process.
That sets up another rematch with a loss from earlier in the season. The Redmen visited W.W. Skiles Field in Shelby in Week 4 (Sept. 15) and were out if it early — much like every Shelby opponent this season.
Ahead 14-0 after one quarter, the Whippets scored four times in the second quarter for a 40-0 halftime lead in a 46-0 win. All 12 opponents on the Shelby schedule have fell victim to the ‘running clock’ rule this season.
“We’re going to do what we do,” Nasonti said. “We feel we’re a better team than we were in Week 4, just like we felt we were a better team in Week 12 than we were in Week 2 when we played Clear Fork last week. We feel like we’re a better team.
“We’re going to try and do better than we did the first time, and we’re also healthier than we were then,” he added. “But obviously when you look at Shelby, it’s like an All-Star team out there. It’s an outstanding team all the way around.”
As Nasonti noted, the Whippets are a ‘pick your poison’ type team. Brennan Armstrong is the quarterback, who is a ‘soft’ Minnesota commit with 14 Div. I scholarship offers from schools in the ACC, Big Ten and Big 12 among others.
Devon Brooks is a standout at running back, and Carter Brooks leads the way at receiver.
They’ve got outstanding players at every position, and it’s no surprise to anyone who has been around,” Nasonti said. “We’ve watched this senior class come through since the seventh grade, so this isn’t a surprise to anybody.
“Armstrong can sling it and run it, Brooks in the backfield is a handful and tough to bring down, then you’ve got the other Brooks at split end,” he added. “It makes it tough to defend. Defensively their line is big up front and holds the line of scrimmage — and their linebackers are active and they got the same skilled guys in the secondary.”
Through 12 games, Dakota McPeak again leads the Bellevue offense. The All-Ohioan from last season and a candidate again this season has caught 61 passes for 1,162 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Despite missing a good part of four games because of injury, Treston Francis has 1,037 yards rushing and 17 TDs from the quarterback position. That includes 291 yards and 5 TDs in the two playoff wins.
Bryce Ray adds 958 yards and 6 TDs on the ground for the Redmen, with Riley Renwand completing 130-of-224 passes for 1,842 yards and 21 TDs with 10 interceptions.
Defensively, Jack Howey has 118 tackles at linebacker, while Kolton Henry has 90 tackles and 11 sacks as a lineman. Bryce McMurray has 64 tackles and seven interceptions, which included one returned for a touchdown in Bellevue’s 34-6 win at Pepper Pike Orange.
“We got a chance to face an undefeated team in the regional semifinals that had beaten us in overtime earlier in the year,” Nasonti said. “There wasn’t a lack of motivation to say the least, and that isn’t going to be any different this week.”
Bellevue navigated a difficult 10-week schedule to a 7-3 regular season, but needed a win at Clyde (9-3) in Week 10 just to reach the playoffs. The three Redmen losses this season are to teams that went 10-0 in the regular season (Clear Fork, Shelby, Sandusky).
“I think our team has shown grit and resilience all year,” Nasonti said. “Things haven’t always been easy for us. We’ve had to overcome some injuries, and last week Dakota being sick. We’ve overcome being 2-2 to start the year with a real tough schedule in front of us.
“Our kids have shown a lot of perseverance this year,” he added. “Those are qualities hat not only help you during a football season, but also qualities that will help you later in life, too.”