Every year when a season ends in any sport, a head coach talks about the impact of the senior class on the program.
Bellevue coach Ed Nasonti noted a lot of things can be said about the class of 18 seniors he lost after Saturday’s 42-21 loss to Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary in the Division III state championship game.
But the biggest thing he’ll miss is the group’s fight and relentless attitude.
“They are a special group to me and my coaches, and to our school and community,” Nasonti said. “I know their hearts are tore out right now, but they had nothing to be ashamed of.
“The only time you should be ashamed is when you don’t give great effort or don’t play to your potential, and I think our kids have done that all year long. There wasn’t one game where I felt our kids weren’t ready or didn’t give everything they had. A lot of guys in our program should look up to these guys and learn something from them, and I think that they have.”
After finishing 5-5 and 6-4 and out of the playoff picture in 2009 and 2010, the Redmen were back in the playoffs last season, falling to Elida at home in the first round.
This season, Bellevue finished 9-1 and No. 7 in the final Associated Press poll, and won four straight playoff games before falling to the No. 9 Irish (13-2).
More praise for Santoro: Add SVSM coach Dan Boarman to the list of opposing coaches who were impressed, if not mystified, with the play of Bellevue quarterback Jalen Santoro.
The Div. III Offensive Player of the Year was bottled up for just 53 yards rushing on 32 attempts, but completed 15 of 25 passes for 184 yards with three touchdowns in the air.
“I have to tell you it’s hard sometimes on film to understand the way a kid runs,” Boarman said of Santoro. “He is elusive and, the best word to use is sneaky. As soon as you thought you had him for a two-yard loss, he’s picking up four yards.
“He was a tough kid. You have to be a tough kid to get hit by these guys that many times. He carried 32 times? That’s an awful lot, even for a big guy.”
In 15 games, Santoro finished with 1,803 yards and 24 touchdowns passing, and 2,250 yards and 31 touchdowns rushing, good for 4,053 all-purpose yards and 55 TDs.
For his career, Santoro finished with 8,411 all-purpose yards and 108 total TDs.
Showing up big: In the regular season, Bellevue junior receiver Dylan Fultz caught just five passes for 58 yards. However, in Saturday’s loss to SVSM, Fultz came up big with four catches for 43 yards.
Two of those catches were especially big. On a third-and-9 from the Bellevue 16, Fultz hauled in an 11-yard pass for a first down. In the second quarter, Fultz hauled in an 11-yard pass on a fourth-and-4 from the Redmen 43 to keep alive a scoring drive.
Special introductions: Bellevue coach Ed Nasonti visited the Pro Football Hall of Fame for the first time Friday. By the end of Saturday’s game, he was shaking hands with a Hall of Famer.
Presenting Bellevue’s game ball for the runner-up finish was Cleveland Browns Hall of Fame running back Leroy Kelly, who gave the ball to Nasonti.
Before the game, Nasonti was visited by Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer, who visited with the 22-year head coach of the Redmen for several minutes. Meyer and OSU defensive assistants Luke Fickell and Mike Vrabel were there to see SVSM linebacker Dante Booker with hopes of getting Booker to commit to the Buckeyes.
Nasonti was also greeted by OHSAA commissioner Dan Ross before the game.
Area title history: With Bellevue’s loss, area teams fell to 4-8 overall in state championship game history.
Norwalk (1974), Clyde (1995), Perkins (1999) and St. Paul (2009) have brought home state gold. Clyde also fell in the 1994 championship game, as did Margaretta in 1986, St. Mary C.C. in 1990, Huron in 1993 and St. Paul in 1997, 1999 and 2004.
Of the 12 area title games, just two, Saturday’s Bellevue loss and St. Paul’s 1999 setback to Delphos St. John’s have been played at Fawcett Stadium. the others were played at Massillon, Columbus and Dayton. The Redmen and Flyers were outscored a combined 84-31 in the two losses.
Tough road: Bellevue has lost to four eventual state champions and three runners-ups in half of its 14 playoff appearances.
Cleveland Benedictine (1996), Columbus DeSales (1997), Mentor Lake Catholic (2001) and Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary (2012) all went on to win titles after beating the Redmen, while Uniontown Lake (1993), Van Wert (2000) and Kenton (2003) all played for the title and lost.
Clyde presence: It’s no secret the biggest rival on the schedule for Bellevue is the Clyde Fliers.
Ironically, in Saturday’s championship game, Clyde graduate Troy Newsome, working in his fifth state championship in 22 years, was one of the officials for the game.
Double champs: Saturday’s game between the Redmen and the Irish offered one overlooked, yet interesting quirk: The winner of the game was going to feature a head coach with a state championship as a football and baseball coach.
Boarman won two baseball titles as the head coach at SVSM in 1986 and 1988, while Nasonti guided the Redmen baseball team to the 1985 state championship.
Rare company: The championship won on Saturday was the fifth in program history for St. Vincent-St. Mary, putting the Irish in elite company. Just 10 schools have won five or more state titles.
Cleveland St. Ignatius leads the way with 11, while Cincinnati Moeller, Newark Catholic and Youngstown Cardinal Mooney each have won eight.
Cleveland Benedictine, Delphos St. John’s, Marion Local and St. Henry and Versailles each have won six championships, and the Irish are next with five. Both Moeller and Marion Local added to their totals with wins over the weekend in Division I and VI.
Stout defense: How good was the SVSM defense during the five playoff wins en route to the championship? It had to go through all three AP All-Ohio Offensive Players of the Year to win the title. In the regional championship, SVSM beat Chagrin Falls, 34-7, and beat Dover 48-13 in the semifinals before Saturday’s 42-21 win over Bellevue.
All three players were quarterbacks who shared the Player of Year award, including Chagrin Falls’ Tommy Iammarino, Dover’s Mason Mamarella and Bellevue’s Santoro.
Div. III tops attendance: Thanks in large part to the presale in Bellevue, Saturday’s Division III championship game had the highest attendance of the six title games all weekend at Massillon’s Paul Brown Tiger Stadium and Canton’s Fawcett Stadium.
An announced crowd of 9,109 attended the game between the Redmen and the Fighting Irish, which was helped out when nearly half the community of Bellevue (more than 3,000) bought tickets to the game. It is also the fourth largest crowd to watch a Division III championship that was not part of a doubleheader. The Division IV game between St. Clairsville and
Bellevue playoff history (13-14): 1981 — Lost to Elyria Catholic in first round, 7-6. 1982 — Lost to Elyria Catholic in first round, 27-16. 1987 — Beat Garfield Heights Trinity in first round, 24-21; lost to Elyria Catholic in regional championship, 21-6. 1993 — Beat Millersburg West Holmes in first round, 7-6,; lost to Uniontown Lake in regional championship, 21-0. 1996 — Beat Olentangy in first round, 14-10; beat Lima Bath in regional championship, 33-14; lost to Cleveland Benedictine in state semifinals, 28-12. 1997 — Lost to Columbus DeSales in first round, 14-8. 1999 — Lost to Willard in first round, 13-0. 2000 — Beat St. Mary’s Memorial in first round, 35-28; lost in second round to Van Wert, 35-21. 2001 — Beat St. Marys Memorial in first round, 35-21; beat Medina Highland in second round, 28-14; beat Sunbury Big Walnut in regional championship, 42-35; lost to Mentor Lake Catholic in state semifinals, 30-6. 2003 — Lost to Kenton in first round, 46-27. 2004 — Beat Columbus Eastmoor in first round, 52-14; lost to Columbus Watterson in second round, 28-6. 2008 — Lost to Tiffin Columbian in the first round, 21-18 2011 — Lost to Elida in the first round, 54-20 2012 — Beat Elida in first round, 19-14; beat Perkins in second round, 28-27; Beat Napoleon in regional championship, 35-20; beat Dayton Thurgood Marshall in state semifinals, 34-33; lost to Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary in state championship, 42-21.
Clinton-Massie drew 8,676 fans on Friday, while Saturday night’s Division I game between Toledo Whitmer and Cincinnati Moeller had 8,834 in attendance.
The Div. V game between Coldwater and Kirtland drew 6,886 fans, while Marion Local and Newark Catholic brought in 5,509 fans in Div. VI. The least attended game was Friday night’s Div. II matchup between Toledo Central Catholic and Trotwood-Madison, which drew 4,897.
In all, the state finals attendance was 43,911, well below the 2011 total of 48,695. Attendance has steadily decreased in recent years. A decade ago, the state championships drew 65,584 fans in 2002.