There hasn’t been any secret about that, with Santoro producing more than 7,000 yards and 97 touchdowns offensively in three seasons.
However, the senior has had some help at key times to advance the Redmen to Saturday’s Division III regional championship vs. Napoleon at Findlay’s Donnell Stadium.
Senior defensive back Nick Raifsnider had a solid regular season, making 40 tackles with four interceptions and multiple pass breakups. But in two playoff wins vs. Elida and Perkins, Raifsnider has come up with two of the biggest interceptions in Redmen history.
Trailing 14-7 in the first round game vs. Elida at Sandusky’s Strobel Field, the Bulldogs found themselves at the Bellevue 3-yard line with just seven seconds left in the first half.
Elida QB Anthony Sumpter rolled to his left, and tried firing a pass to the corner of the end zone, but Raifsnider was there to make the diving interception on the final play of the half.
It kept the deficit at 14-7, and the Redmen rallied with two second-half touchdowns to advance with a 19-14 win.
In Saturday’s thrilling last-second 28-27 win over Perkins, it was Raifsnider coming up with the big play to turn the game around.
Trailing 27-21 with just over 30 seconds left in the game, the Pirates attempted a fourth-down pass that Raifsnider intercepted and returned 28 yards to the Perkins 42. Four plays later, the winning points were scored as time expired.
“The thing I’ll say about Nick, he’s just a really, really savvy kid,” Bellevue coach Ed Nasonti said. “He’s got good instincts and is just a good all-around athlete. He’s one of those kids that is in the right place a lot of the time because of his instincts.
“Nick has had a real solid year for us. He’s one of those kids who, when he gets the ball, he usually makes someone miss. When he made that interception, I thought he might go the distance, but the Perkins kid (Brandon Smith) made a nice tackle. But I wasn’t surprised to see Nick making that play.”
Another key contributor in the two playoff wins has been the team’s leading receiver, senior Trent Stamm. He only has four catches for 21 yards in the two wins, but two of them get no bigger.
With Bellevue desperate for points and trailing 14-0 in the second quarter vs. Elida, a third-down pass from Santoro to Stamm went for a 7-yard touchdown pass on a slant route with 2:02 left in the half.
Without it, the Redmen don’t get the momentum necessary to get back into the game, as much of the first half was a field position struggle.
In Saturday’s win over Perkins, Stamm had not made a single catch for 47 minutes and 56 seconds of play.
But at the Perkins 12 and four seconds on the clock, Santoro was flushed out of the pocket and threw a high-arching pass to the middle of the end zone, where a leaping Stamm pulled in the winning touchdown with no time on the clock.
“When Trent saw Jalen scramble to the left, he came right down the end zone line and came up towards the goal line,” Nasonti said. “When Jalen threw it up, Trent just jumped up with perfect timing and happened to be there.
“Jalen threw it high enough where he was the only one who could get it, and he pulled it down almost like a rebound in basketball. It was an unbelievable play and great hustle to the ball.”
Nasonti said Stamm (29 catches, 472 yards, 10 TDs) also comes up big in another area.
“Trent has had a good year, but what people may not understand is what we ask our receivers to do,” Nasonti said. “We have an outstanding running quarterback and our line does a great job to get him through, but we have receivers who have to do blocking downfield after that. Trent is one of the best blocking wideouts we’ve ever had here, and he has really been big in helping Jalen take a 15-yard run and turn it into a 50-yard run.”
Another critical figure in Saturday’s win was sophomore kicker Jake Strayer.
After Stamm caught the touchdown, the 6-foot, 270-pound center was scrambling to get his kicking shoe during all the pandemonium for the all-important extra point attempt. A miss meant overtime and more football, and a make meant the Redmen advancing as one of the final eight teams in Division III.
After three line drive kicks that were good previously, Strayer boomed a no-doubter PAT to set off the wild Bellevue celebration.
“Jake has been pretty solid. He had missed a few here or there, but we work on it every day with him, and I honestly had confidence he would knock it through there,” Nasonti said.
Adding to the drama, regular holder Dylan Fultz got hurt earlier in the game, and Santoro had to come in and hold the ball for Strayer.
“If you think a bout it, four things have to go right there,” Nasonti said. “The snap, the hold, the line protecting, and the kicker knocking it through. And that’s not always automatic for any team at any level. You can see guys on Sunday afternoons who miss PATs randomly. There’s no guarantee.”
The ending of the game actually brought back a wave of memories from another top moment in Bellevue sports history for Nasonti.
As the head coach of the 1985 baseball team, it was Mike Strayer, Jake’s dad, connecting for the game-winning hit in the state championship game vs. Wellston.
“He came up in the bottom of the sixth with two outs and two strikes and knocked one off the wall that put us up 3-2 in the championship game,” Nasonti said of Mike Strayer. “We got three outs the next inning and celebrated a state title.
“Then Saturday night his son comes up for that kick, and it actually crossed my mind when he was out there. It wasn’t ‘for a state championship, but for a sophomore, you won’t find a more pressure situation.”