For the first time in three weeks, there was no thrilling end to a Division III Region 10 playoff game for the Bellevue football team.
Saturday night against No. 1-ranked Napoleon, the No. 7 Redmen took any drama out of the regional championship early with a perfect mix of running plays, deep pass connections and even a trick play en route to a 35-20 win over the Wildcats (11-1-1).
Bellevue (12-1) advances to the state semifinals for the first time in 11 years and the third time overall next Saturday, where it plays No. 4 Dayton Thurgood Marshall (12-1) at a site to be determined today.
Bellevue jumped out to a 28-6 halftime lead, and held off multiple Napoleon attempts at a comeback in the second half.
"We had a lot of anxiety during the week because we wanted to see how well we could play defense with what they did," Bellevue coach Ed Nasonti said. "We had a feeling we could move the ball on them, but we wanted to make sure we could stop them."
That was also rarely in question, as Bellevue held Napoleon to 132 yards rushing on 29 attempts, and just 107 yards through the air.
"Against a team like Bellevue, points aren't going to be easy to come by," Napoleon coach Tory Strock said. "Their sheer size inside allows them to not really have to pack the box to stop you. We hit them on a couple things, but the bottom line is we weren't really able to sustain anything offensively. I think that's more of a credit to them than it is an indictment on our kids."
Bellevue opened the scoring with a 4-play, 70-yard scoring drive in the first quarter after each team traded possessions to start the game. The Redmen got three straight runs for 12 yards from Santoro, then the QB caught the Napoleon defense napping.
Santoro stepped back and threw a perfect pass in stride to Derek Smith on a post pattern. Smith hauled in the pass at the 25 and took it the distance for a 58-yard scoring strike at the 6:57 mark of the opening quarter. Jake Strayer added the first of five PATs for a 7-0 lead.
Napoleon quickly answered with a 6-play, 72-yard scoring drive in 2:57, with 6-foot-5 University of Toledo basketball recruit Jordan Lauf hauling in a nice one-handed grab on a 21-yard touchdown pass from David Yunker at the 3:48 mark of the first.
But the rest of the half was all Bellevue.
The Redmen extended their lead with a 5-play, 80-yard scoring drive that was highlighted by another deep connection from Santoro to Smith, this time a 61-yard pass to the Napoleon 15. Santoro then circled through the Wildcat defense for an 11-yard gain, and followed with a 4-yard TD run with 1:28 left in the first quarter for a 14-6 lead.
Each team then traded a pair of possessions, but a Trent Stamm interception at the Bellevue 42 again put the Redmen back in business.
After two Santoro runs totaled 19 yards, some trickery broke open the game. Santoro handed off to sophomore Clay Fries, who stopped and threw a bullet to Stamm in stride between a pair of defenders. Stamm hauled in the pass for a 34-yard touchdown, his third of the playoffs, which made it 21-6 with 6:45 left in the half.
For more information on this game, see Sunday's Sandusky Register.