MOUNT UNION - All-state running back Casey Gray is the focal point of Bellwood-Antis' offense, but over the past two weeks, the Blue Devils have proven that they have a couple other very decent weapons in their offensive backfield.
Last week, senior fullback Tanner Snyder rushed for 187 yards and two touchdowns in the Blue Devils' victory at Juniata Valley.
On Friday night, the man of the hour for Bellwood was senior halfback Jake Stapleton, who broke off a 57-yard touchdown run late in the game to cement the Blue Devils' 20-6 Inter-County Conference Gold Division victory over Mount Union on Homecoming Night at Trojan Athletic Field.
Stapleton burst through a big hole in the middle of the line and raced down the right sideline for the clinching touchdown with 2:20 remaining in the game.
He also caught a 51-yard scoring pass from sophomore Jake Burch with 24 seconds remaining in the first half to put Bellwood ahead to stay, 7-6.
"Jake gives us some diversity in the backfield,'' said Bellwood-Antis coach John Hayes, whose team improved to 4-1 overall and 2-0 in the division. "Last week, Tanner Snyder had a big game, and tonight, Jake had a big game for us.''
With Bellwood clinging to a 14-6 lead in the final minutes and facing a third-and-two at its own 43, Stapleton was merely trying to get a first down when he found daylight.
"Coach Hayes told me just to try to get a first down, and I saw a nice cutback lane and tried to take advantage of it,'' the 5-foot-9, 170-pound Stapleton said. "Our line blocked real well on the play, and I was able to break free.''
The play helped Bellwood put a very hotly-contested game on ice.
"We weren't comfortable with the (14-6) lead, because Mount Union is so dangerous and they have so many playmakers,'' Hayes said. "(Stapleton) cut it back very nicely there. He's really been developing into quite a runner for us.''
Stapleton showed in the second quarter that he's a pretty decent pass receiver, as well. With Mount Union leading, 6-0 and just 24 seconds remaining in the first half, Stapleton beat a Mount Union defender in one-on-one coverage down the left side of the field and hauled in a 51-yard touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Burch.
"I saw their safety coming over, and I thought he was going to pick it off, but it was a perfect throw by Jake Burch,'' Stapleton said.
Mount Union drew first blood with 3:34 remaining in the first half when senior wideout Klayton Heffner caught a 60-yard touchdown pass from senior fullback Devon Kylor.
Bellwood's ability to answer quickly with the Burch-to-Stapleton touchdown throw right before halftime was deemed pivotal by Mount Union coach Dayton Shugarts.
"Had they not scored right before the end of the first half, it may have been a different game,'' said Shugarts, whose team fell to 1-1 in the division and 4-1 overall. "It was a good high school football game. We came in well prepared, but we lost to a good football team tonight.''
With Bellwood leading 7-6 midway through the third quarter, Burch and Gray hooked up on a 35-yard pass route down the middle of the field. The throw highlighted Bellwood's seven-play, 63-yard scoring drive that Snyder culminated with a 13-yard scoring burst up the gut with 7:04 remaining in the third period that put Bellwood ahead, 14-6.
Mount Union had a chance to pull even early in the fourth quarter, but junior quarterback Trevon Walker's throw was caught just inches out of the back of the end zone by senior Dylan Smith after being tipped by another Mount Union receiver.
"I'm extremely pleased with the way our kids hung in there,'' Hayes said. "We bent, but when it came to bite the bullet tonight, we did.''
Notes: Mount Union was penalized nine times for 70 yards in the game, a fact that Shugarts pinpointed as one of the keys to the outcome. ... Senior Katelyn Kester was crowned Mount Union's Homecoming Queen. She was escorted by Zach Clemens, a senior lineman on the football team. ... Bellwood-Antis visits Everett next Friday night, while Mount Union travels to Northern Bedford.