BELLAIRE - It was just about a month ago that the Bellaire Big Reds got physically handled and beaten by Shadyside.
At that point, the Big Reds - staring at seven straight weeks of Buckeye 8 encounters - were 1-2 on the season and looking at some heavy soul searching.
It wasn't the fact that the Big Reds had lost to the Tigers and Steubenville Central, but the way in which they lost. They were getting gashed for huge chunks of yardage.
Giving credit to the Bellaire players, head coach Jose Davis and the entire staff, they didn't throw the baby out with the bath water. They did do some self-evaluating and challenged themselves to get better.
It's paid dividends because the Big Reds haven't tasted defeated since and that includes knocking off previously undefeated St. Clairsville, 38-28 before a large and boisterous crowd at Nelson Field Saturday afternoon.
The win doesn't just snap the Red Devils' winning streak or give Davis his first victory as a head coach against the Devils, but it also allows Bellaire to control its destiny for a home playoff game, the OVAC Class 3A title and the Buckeye 8 crown as it wraps up its stay in the league.
While the Big Reds' offensive stats jump off the page at 565 yards, including 327 on the ground, it was the defense that has turned the tide during their four-game winning streak.
Bellaire's playing much more physical at the line of scrimmage, tackling better in space and its secondary is improving to where it can come up and defend the run better because obviously the scouting report is the Big Reds can be ran on.
"We have just continued to grind and get better," Davis said. "I can't go out and recruit 11 new guys. These are the ones who are here. We have to dance with who brought you. We've continued to work at it and we're on these kids' butts for a reason. That's what it's been."
The defensive standouts were limitless. Brendon Ross, Kenny Hess, Cody LaRoche, Myliek Green, Dom Vinka, Austin McConville, James Dunfee all turned in most impressive outings as they had to contain arguably the Ohio Valley's finest tailback in Youngstown State recruit Jaylon Brown.
"We're trying to get ourselves back to the level that when you play against Bellaire, you know you were in a game," Davis said. "Whether or not we win or lose, we want teams to know they were in a fight. We tell our kids all the time that you win games on defense. You can score all you like, but you have to get stops."
Brown, who was playing in his first game back from a knee injury suffered in week five, had a productive return the lineup. He ran for 106 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries. He caught 5 passes for 48 and a score.
However, Brown had to scratch and claw for everything he got, which is every team's game plan against him.
"When you talk about some of the changes for us, we've talked about not allowing the big plays," Davis said. "If you make them grind 3, 4, or 5 yards at a time, there's going to be a penalty or some type of setback. We knew we had to wrap him up and tackle well in the open field."
As for St. Clairsville, the Red Devils might have saw their 17-game winning streak snapped, but similar to Bellaire a month ago and Martins Ferry three weeks ago, every goal that St. C. set for itself is still highly attainable.
The Red Devils are still in position to host a playoff game and are still in the thick of the OVAC 4A chase. As for the Buckeye 8, they'll need some help.
There was a time in the Big Reds and Red Devils' rivalry when it wasn't a matter of who was going to win, but, rather, by how many would the Big Reds' prevail by.
Remember, prior to the recent Red Devils' run of success, Bellaire had owned them for the better part of over a decade.
Seeing how the Big Reds reacted to the victory and how hungry they were for it goes to show you the kind of job that Brett McLean and his staff have done to take the Red Devils to the next level.
Davis stressed to his kids all week that if they wanted to take the next step and get to St. C.'s level, this was a game they had to have.
"St. Clairsville is in the upper echelon and they've been there for many years now and I told our kids if we wanted to get there, we had to go get it," Davis said. "We knew St. Clairsville was going to grind it out and get after us. I told the kids if you want to be mentioned as a great football team, this is your time."