Bellaire and Newark Catholic are no strangers to the Ohio High School Athletic Association's football playoffs.
The Big Reds (7-3) are back in the playoffs for the second consecutive season - their 11th appearance overall - after a 5-year postseason drought, while the Green Wave (9-1), which finished as state runnersup to Maria Stein Marion Local in Division VI last December in Massillon, are making their 33rd trip to the playoffs.
Bellaire finished as the No. 5 seed with 18.703 bonus points. Newark Catholic was fourth with 20.1.
It might have surprised some people when these two Region 21 teams were matched up in the first round of the Division V 'second season' on Friday night at Newark's White Field, but not Bellaire head coach Jose Davis.
"It's kind of funny because of what transpired (last) Friday night (around the state), we had a feeling that if things didn't go our way Saturday (against Martins Ferry) we'd be playing Newark Catholic instead of Centerburg," the Big Reds' fifth-year head coach said. "So, it's no surprise to us, but we'll have to bring our 'A' game."
It's no surprise to veteran Newark Catholic head coach Bill Franks.
"It's a quality opponent," he said of Bellaire. "We saw their game with Martins Ferry last week, and it was a tremendous environment with over 100 years in that rivalry. They have a storied history and it's a classic matchup."
Bellaire is led by record-setting quarterback Spencer Badia. The 5-10, 180-pound senior has etched his name into several record books during his 3-year career as the Big Reds' field general. Last week against Martins Ferry, Badia became the first quarterback in the storied history of the OVAC to surpass the 8,000-yard mark in total offense. He currently sits at 8,001. He also broke Nate Davis' career mark for passing yardage ay BHS. He now has 7,529 yards through the air.
"Spencer has come a long way from his freshman year when he was a backup," Davis said. "He has done some tremendous things for us, but it's not a one-man show. He's got some very good wide receivers and a running back that has been a good addition."
Badia is 152 of 255 for 2,182 yards and 28 touchdowns this season. he has been picked seven times. He has added 107 yards and two TDs rushing.
When Badia looks to throw, which is about 60 percent of the time, he has a bevy of wideouts to work with. Senior Nick Patrone set a new career mark for catches at Bellaire when he passed Ben Taylor. Patrone currently has 140 career receptions and became only the third Big Red to amass 2,000 yards receiving in his career, joining Joey Galloway (2,334) and Trey Masciarelli (2,207).
On the season, Patrone (5-9, 165) has a team-best 40 catches for 700 yards and 10 six-pointers. Classmates Kenny Hess (6-0, 190) has grabbed 35 receptions for 583 yards and half-a-dozen six-pointers, while Brendon Ross (6-2, 185) has 32 catches for 451 yards and seven TDs. Juniors Hunter Westlake (23-217-3) and Tyler West (16-218-1) are also viable targets.
Martins Ferry transfer Brandon Laughman, 5-8, 185-pound junior, sat out the first five games due to the OHSAA transfer rule, but has picked up a team-high 532 yards rushing. He has scored three TDs. Westlake has 40 carries for 374 stripes and six touchdowns. West has lugged the leather 45 times, gaining 301 yards and finding the end zone four times.
"We're a backfield-by-committee at times," Davis said. "Brandon has done a good job coming in."
The offensive line is led by seniors Wyatt Back (6-0, 265), Ryan Callarik (6-1, 210), James Dunfee (5-9, 215), Robby Kalinowski (6-4, 290) and Seth Pickens (5-10, 205), along with juniors Cody LaRoche (6-0, 255) and Donivan Taylor (6-0, 335).
Defensively, the Big Reds have most of the same names on this side of the ball as Patrone, Hess, Ross, Westlake, Back, LaRoche, Kalinowski, Pickens and Callarik are mainstays, as are senior Skylar Jeter (6-0, 190); juniors Austin McConville (6-0, 170), Dom Vinka (5-8, 165) and Myliek Green (5-10, 175); and freshman Justyn Keyser (6-0, 150). Junior Bralen Snell (5-8, 170) has also seen action.
Hess and Vinka are the leading tacklers with 84 and 82 stops, respectively. Hess has 79 solo stops and eight for minus yardage, while Vinka has 76 solo and four behind the line of scrimmage, along with a quarterback sack. LaRoche and Jeter each have a trio of sacks, while Green has six TFLs and LaRoche and McConville five TFLs each. Ross leads with six picks. Patrone has three. McConville and Keyser two a piece.
LaRoche also does the kicking off and placekicking. He has 36 point-after conversions and five field goals for 51 points. He also has a safety on defense. Westlake averages 32 yards as the punter.
Badia's work hasn't been overlooked by Franks and his staff.
"We've got a lot of good quarterbacks around here, but he is definitely at the top of the list," Franks praised.
And that comes from a coach whose own quarterback who has committed to Illinois.
The Green Wave are by Chayce Crouch, a 6-4, 222-pound senior. He, according to reports, is also a standout punter.
"Chayce has had a great career for us," Franks admitted. "He's got a very strong arm and is a great runner."
This season Crouch has completed 102 of 192 passes for 1,462 yards and 10 touchdowns. He has, however, been picked off six times. In addition, he is the Green Wave's second leading rusher with 476 yards and 15 TDs, behind only senior Anthony Wing (5-6, 157), who has picked up 740 yards and scored 13 touchdowns. Sophomore Wes Jurden (5-10, 165) has 345 yards and three TDs. No one else has more than 21 yards.
Crouch's favorite target is junior Luke Ceneviva (6-0, 172) with 33 catches for 389 yards and a TD. Wing has 26 receptions for 416 yards and two scores. Sophomore Hunter Davis (5-8, 140) has 23 catches for 400 yards and a team-high four six-pointers.
"They are pretty balanced on offense," Davis said of Newark Catholic. "They've run for about 1,600 yards and passed for about the same. That's amazing for the number of blowout wins they've had, so our pass defense and run defense need to be prepared at all times.
"Their quarterback runs a little better than he does throw, but he can make the big throws because of his strong arm," Davis explained.
The Big Reds are hoping for a different fate that in last year's playoffs. Badia suffered a surgery-required knee injury early in the Division V first-round game with Cuyahoga Heights as Bellaire fell, 42-14.
In last season's state championship game, Crouch accounted for all three Newark Catholic touchdowns in a last-second, 28-21, loss. He ran for one and passed for two more.
Hosting a first-round game will be something new for the Green Wave, as White Field was not playable last season so they had to play at Gahanna-Lincoln High School.
"Our field is ready to go," Franks said. "In fact, Jose Davis was just here and thought it was a great environment to play in. I think the people that travel out here will be surprised."
In addition to qualifying for the playoffs, Bellaire also won the OVAC Class 3A championship.