STEUBENVILLE - Spencer Badia found Nick Patrone in the corner of the end zone as time expired Saturday to give Bellaire a heart-stopping 44-42 victory against Steubenville Catholic Central at Harding Stadium.
The 4-yard scoring strike capped a frantic rally for Jose Davis' Big Reds, who reeled off 25 unanswered points to snatch a victory away from the Crusaders. The game-winning drive covered 67 yards and consumed the final 3:52 of the high-scoring opener.
''It's the first time in six years that we are 1-0 and I think that speaks volumes about our team,'' an elated Davis said. ''We overcame a lot of adversity, the big deficit and guys cramping up. We showed a lot of heart.
''I preach to them all the time about the pride and spirit of Bellaire. (Saturday), that's what it was.''
The night definitely belonged to the offenses. The teams combined for more than 1,000 yards (667 coming through the air). Badia connected on 38 of 63 passing attempts for 407 yards and four touchdowns. Meanwhile, Steubenville Catholic's Brenton Colabella launched his junior season with a positive showing, throwing for 260 (he was 14 of 26) and three scores.
''We just didn't finish,'' Steubenville Catholic's Steve Daley said. ''The kids gave us an unbelievable effort and did everything we asked of them. It was just one of the games.
''There were a couple of plays that could of have gone either way. The results of those plays really cost our kids in the end because they led to three scores.''
The Crusaders got on the board first, Colabella hitting Ryan Fletcher from 16 yards away. Stone Romano added the extra point. Bellaire came right back, scoring when Badia connected with Tyler West for an 11-yard touchdown. The conversion attempt sailed wide.
Early in the second stanza, Central made it 14-6, going 63 yards for the touchdown. The touchdown came when Michael Carapellotti made a nifty grab of a Colabella pass. Romano again added the point. It was during this drive that the Crusader running game began to show its stuff. On the march, Romano, just a sophomore, bulled his way for 35 of the 63 stripes.
Daley's crew increased its advantage to 20-6 when Colabella threw a perfect strike to Zack Herrington on a fade route. This time, however, the kick failed.
Bellaire again answered, going 76 yards and scoring on Logan Koshenka's two-yard plunge. Dalton Conroy's kick made it 20-13. Central got the final score of the half on a 49-yard Colabella to Herrington connection. The senior receiver went up the ladder to grab the toss and find the end zone. Romano's kick put the Crusaders up 27-13. The score was set up by Kyle Laukert's first of two interceptions.
The Big Reds drew first blood in the third quarter after recovering a Central fumble. Nick Maffe went in from 16 yards away. Again, the conversion attempt failed.
Central scored midway through the period when Fletcher dashed in from 12 yards out on a jet sweep. The junior showed great patience, allowing the hole to develop and dodging the Bellaire defenders. On the extra point try, Chris Murphy gathered in the bad snap and scooped it to Aleks Porreca for the two-pointer. This Crusaders score was set up by Murphy's fumble recovery. He jumped on the pigskin after Romano jarred it loose with a nasty hit on the Bellaire running back.
Daley's club appeared to take control for good late in the period, scoring on a 56-yard sprint by senior running back Doug Maslowski. Romano's kick made it 42-19 Central. Maslowski, making his first start on offense, finished the night with 175 yards.
Bellaire quickly cut the lead to 10 on a Badia pass to Crosby and a run by Maffe. The score moved to 42-38 with 5:51 left to play on a 45-yard Badia to Hunter Westlake pass.
On its ensuing possession, Central managed to move the ball from its own 20 out to the 44. A motion penalty cost the Crusaders and they were forced to the punt, setting the stage for the game-winning drive.
Going into the season, Daley indicated his Crusaders needed to do a better job of running the football. For the most part, Central did that Saturday. However, there still is work to be done.
''We did a nice job of running the ball,'' Daley said. ''However, we have to improve when it comes to picking up first downs when we need them. We need to grind it out, not so much picking up yardage in big chunks, but grinding it out.''