BELLAIRE - For the first time since 2006, Bellaire has won consecutive gridiron starts.
The Big Reds achieved that feat on a sweltering Saturday afternoon with a 31-20 victory against John Marshall at Nelson Field on Hall of Fame Day.
Bellaire (2-0) did so with a huge second-half defensive effort. Yes, you read right, its defense.
After the Monarchs (0-2) tied the game just before the half at 14-14, the Big Reds' stop troops made sure that was the last time the West Virginians would reach the end zone, sparking a 17-0 third-quarter scoring spree, until the game was already decided.
"The defense held their ground in the second half," Bellaire coach Jose Davis said. "Obviously, everyone wants to talk about what we do here offensively, but we are not going to be consistent if our defense doesn't get better.
"With some of the adjustments that we've made, I think we're moving in the right direction."
The second half didn't start the way first-year JM coach Rick Goodrich had planned.
Dalton Conroy's kickoff bounced over the head of a John Marshall return man and the Monarchs began from their own 2.
Senior quarterback Jeremiah Fromhart dropped back to pass on first down but was hit by sophomore UL transfer Abhay Horvath, jarring the ball loose. It rolled to the line of scrimmage where it was scooped by the Big Reds' Ryan Callarik, who carried it into the end zone for a 20-14 lead his team would never relinquish.
Conroy, who was 4-for-4 on PATs, split the uprights, bumping the count to 21-14 with only 16 seconds elapsed in the second half.
"That was a bad start for us," Goodrich said. "We didn't get the handle on the kickoff, and then we tried to hit a long one. We had them sucked up, but a guy leaked through. They made a good play."
John Marshall tried to get some of the momentum back on its side as the Monarchs drove from their own 20 to the Bellaire 34 using nearly six minutes of the clock on the ensuing series of plays.
However, a fourth-and-11 screen pass was snuffed out by the Big Reds' defensive front as the ball fell harmlessly to the grass, giving Bellaire the ball back at its own 34.
It only took the hosts seven plays to move the 66 yards, with the final 44 coming on a nifty hookup from junior classmates Spencer Badia and Nick Patrone. On second-and-10, Badia lasered a strike to Patrone on a slant from the left sidelines. The sure-handed Patrone pulled the pass in and stopped on a dime. However, a pair of JM defenders kept going, both falling to the ground, as Patrone broke outside and went the distance.
Conroy's PAT made it 28-14 with 4:22 on the third-quarter clock.
Bellaire got the ball back three plays later when junior Myliek Green stepped in front of a Fromhart pass at the Monarchs' 34. Conroy completed the ensuing drive with a 25-yard field goal to cap his team's scoring.
"We had some players step up for us," Davis said. "But that is what we need. We still have some inexperienced kids that are kind of learning on the fly.
"(It) wasn't pretty, but, obviously at the end of the day, any win is a good win. So, we'll take it and get ready for East Liverpool."
John Marshall may have lost the game, but it held a huge advantage in total offense. The Monarchs ran the ball 52 times for 260 yards, while only passing for 67. Meanwhile, Bellaire managed 203 yards through the air and gained 117 via the ground.
"I thought our offensive line really did a good job, and our backs ran hard," Goodrich said. "There was a lot of improvement from the first game, but we still need to keep getting better."
Despite being 2-0 for the first time in half-a-dozen years, Davis was not totally satisfied with his team's performance.
Bellaire took a 14-0 lead after the first 12 minutes as Badia found sophomore Hunter Westlake all alone down the left hash marks for a 21-yard hookup on the game's opening drive.
Patrone knocked the ball loose after a short completion on John Marshall's first possession, and Quinton Crosby fell on it at the Monarchs' 42. Seven plays later, Nick Maffe skirted around his left end for a 6-yard scoring jaunt.
John Marshall came back as Jacob Wood completed a 7-play, 37-yard drive with a 3-yard run over the left side of the line. After a 5-yard motion penalty against the visitors, kicker Alan Miller found
Gary Magers in the right flat for the 2-point conversion that cut the deficit to 14-8 with 5:29 left in the first half.
Bellaire failed on a fourth-and-1 try, giving the ball right back to the Monarchs, who promptly marched 57 yards on 11 plays. Fromhart bulled his way over the goalline from two yards out to tie the game at 14. However, this time the two-point attempt failed, leaving the score deadlocked.