While starting the season with a 1-2 record, Bellaire may have given itself a second wind with last Saturday's 26-14 victory against Edison at Nelson Field.
The Big Reds are 2-2 overall, but even more importantly 1-0 in the Buckeye 8 Conference.
Friday night they will look for that second conference victory, traveling up river to take on winless Buckeye Local (0-4), which is coming off a 30-16 loss to Indian Creek. The good news for Coach Phil Pest's team is the fact that the Panthers did score a season high in points in the contest.
There is also good news and bad news for Coach Jose Davis' Bellaire squad. Yes, Buckeye Local has scored 28 points in four games, and yes, the Big Reds had struggled mightily on defense in their first four games. However, the Panthers have had trouble putting points on the board, they have moved the ball well only to shoot themselves in the foot at the most inopportune times.
In a loss to John Marshall two weeks ago, Buckeye Local found itself inside the Monarchs' 5 on three of its first four possessions. But Pest's crew turned the ball over on each one of those trips, coming away with no points and allowing John Marshall to take command.
Against the Redskins last week, Pest's offense did rack up nearly 300 yards, including quarterback Chase Hopkins throwing for 231 yards and a score, but red-zone problems again became an issue. Buckeye was stopped inside the Indian Creek 1 on the final play of the first half and also had another opportunity thwarted inside the 10 on what turned into a 100-yard interception return for Creek.
The Panthers have the athletes to move the football, led by senior running back Devin Pyciak, junior wideout Brandon Panepucci and sophomore wideout Dylan Doaks.
"No question, we have been our own worst enemy," Pest said. "Fumbles, penalties and interceptions have killed us. In all, we have been inside the opponent 15 a total of seven times without scoring a point and that has to change.
"We have been working on it, and I feel like we have been getting better since Week 1, but we just have to find a way to score when we get down there like that."
Davis, meanwhile, knows what Buckeye Local is capable of.
"Their record does not do them justice," Davis said. "They have been on the bad end of some situations in the red zone and it has cost them. But there are a couple of games that had they been able to convert they might have been right there."
Along with scoring, the Panthers are going to have to find a way to slow down Bellaire's high-powered offense, led by senior quarterback Spencer Badia, and a rejuvenated rushing attack powered by junior Hunter Westlake.
Badia, one of the most prolific quarterback in the Valley over the last few seasons, threw for 178 yards and two scores a week ago, while Westlake racked up 189 rushing yards and two touchdowns - all coming on a sloppy field in the rain.
Badia's main receiving threats are Nick Patrone and Kenny Hess, both of whom found the end zone against Edison ad combined for eight grabs and 157 yards.
"Bellaire is a very well coached team with probably the best quarterback in the entire Valley the last two seasons," Pest said. "And they also have some of the best receivers in the area as well. They have a solid kicking game and are just very good overall."
Turnovers and defense have both been struggles for Bellaire this season. Amazingly, the Wildcats ran 83 plays against the Big Reds defense a week ago while the Big Reds offense was on the field for just 36. Bellaire has also scored 127 points, but allowed 129, with 101 of those coming against Ohio Division VII powers Steubenville Central and Shadyside, both at Nelson Field.
"I believe our defense played better last week," Davis added. "But we have to keep improving and we have to quit giving the ball away on offense. You can look and see we are 1-0 in the Buckeye 8, but for us, we want to start a new season every week and be 1-0 when it is over.
"No matter if it is in conference or out of conference, we want to work hard, do the best we can and move onto the next week."