BELLAIRE - Even though Bellaire is 3-0 to start a season for the first time since the 2006 season, coach Jose Davis says his team still has a long way to go.
"I could tell you the same exact stuff I told you last week. We are still inexperienced when it comes to putting a team away," he said after watching the Big Reds outscore East Liverpool, 43-28, on a rainy Saturday afternoon at Nelson Field.
After bolting to a 13-0 lead on its first two offensive possessions, Bellaire scored on the final play of the first half and returned the second-half kickoff for a touchdown to build what looked like a comfortable, 30-7, lead against the winless Potters (0-3).
"We're up 30-7 and we relax. We think that because we're up 30-7, we're OK," Davis continued. "That's why you play two halves.
''Hopefully, we can keep on learning and get better each week."
East Liverpool, behind the passing of sophomore quarterback Kade Reynolds, cut the deficit to 36-28, with 8:19 left in the fourth quarter, but Bellaire tacked on another touchdown to seal the deal.
"We've got to keep on playing hard for four quarters," Davis stressed. "The Buckeye 8 starts next week, so we're about to enter a brutal part of our schedule. We have to stay physically and mentally prepared to play in this upcoming run."
Junior fullback Nick Maffe gave the hosts the quick lead when he bulled his way into the endzone from a yard out. Dalton Conroy's PAT was good, making it 7-0.
Following another East Liverpool three-and-out, junior Spencer Badia capped an 8-play, 78-yard drive with a 5-yard quarterback draw. The PAT failed, leaving the hosts on top, 13-0.
The key play on the second scoring march was a 33-yard hookup from Badia to classmate Nick Patrone on third-and-5.
Maffe collected 60 of his 91 yards rushing in the first quarter, which was a huge boost for the Big Reds..
"Nick ran very hard," Davis said. "But, I've told you that we have to have a balanced attack in order to be successful. We can't drop back and throw the ball 60 times a game. We have to have that balance just to keep the opponents off balance."
The Potters finally got on the scoreboard when Reynolds rolled to his right before lofting the ball back across the field to Zack English for six points. Justin Barr's placement made it 13-7 with 2:44 left in the half.
Myliek Green's 28-yard kickoff return set the Big Reds up with good field position at their own 44. It only took them five plays - four runs and a pass - to score as Badia found Kenny Hess streaking down the hashmarks for a 18-yard strike. Conroy's kick bumped the count to 20-7.
Bellaire wasn't finished, however, as Abhay Horvath picked off a Reynolds pass. He returned it 37 yards before being tripped up by one of his own players with 6.5 ticks showing on the clock. After an incompletion in the endzone, Davis summoned Conroy to attempt a 35- yard field goal. The big-footed senior buried it down the middle of the uprights for a 23-7 lead at the half.
Tony McGee fielded the opening kickoff of the second half at his own 20. Spying a seam up the left sidelines, he sprinted through the hole and went untouched for an electrifying 80-yard return. Conroy's PAT was good, making it 30-7 just 12 seconds into the half.
"If you really look at it, those two plays are really the difference in the game," Davis noted. "The return was huge for our confidence, but then again, we kind of relaxed and let them come back some."
East Liverpool marched 80 yards on 11 plays with the ensuing possession, with Reynolds and English teaming up again. This time they combined for six points from 17 yards out as English made an athletic, leaping catch in the middle of the end zone. Barr's kick made it 30-14.
Bellaire didn't waste any time in retaliating as McGee scampered up the middle and into the endzone untouched for an 8-yard touchdown.
The point-after failed, leaving the hosts ahead, 36-14.
D.J. Austin sparked a 14-0 Potters surge with an 82-yard kickoff return that set up John Miscuk's 10-yard touchdown run. Following a Bellaire punt, the white-clad Potters went 62 yards on 11 snaps as
Stefan Yoho skirted around his left end for a 4-yard score. When Miscuk ran for the 2-point conversion, East Liverpool had suddenly made it a one possession contest at 36-28.
Bellaire didn't waste any time in sealing the deal when Badia found Quinton Crosby on a 38-yard fly pattern down the far sidelines. The completion capped a 4-play, 55-yard drive and came one play after a 14-yard strike from Badia to Patrone on third-and-7 kept the drive alive.
East Liverpool's final threat was snuffed out when James Dunfee caught a fumble in mid-air.
Bellaire held a slim edge in total offense, 349-292. The Big Reds moved the first-down sticks 18 times to 13 for the Potters. Reynolds was on target 11 of 18 times for 165 yards and two touchdowns. He was picked once.
Badia finished 9-for-20 for 162 yards and the two TDs. English had five catches for 90 yards and the two scores, while Patrone snagged five balls for 89 yards.