The 2020 high school football season was a strange one for everybody in the state of Pennsylvania, and Bellwood-Antis was no different.
Not only were there questions about if any given game would be played on a weekly basis, but there were also doubts about having a season at all back in August due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Eventually, the season’s start was only pushed back by two weeks, and the Blue Devils eventually got to play eight games, which resulted in a 7-1 record.
Even though it wasn’t a normal year and the Blue Devils certainly would have played more games any other season, it’s hard for Nick Lovrich to feel that his team got the short end of the stick.
“When you put things in perspective of how our world is going right now, I think it is hard to say we got robbed that we only played eight games,” said Lovrich. “Back in early August, we didn’t even think we would get a chance to practice, let alone play a game. Every week we were met with some sort of adversity.
“There was so much uncertainty all season and it was all out of our control. I was so proud of our kids for how they handled the whole season. They focused on controlling the things they could control, which was their attitude and effort. They had a great attitude all year despite all the extra things they had to do for prevention or all the things they missed out on because of COVID.
The kids showed how resilient they can be and why they will be successes in their future.”
There was also the extremely odd week that Bellwood-Antis had when the school district celebrated Homecoming, even though the scheduled football game against Mount Union was canceled due to the Trojans’ COVID concerns. The Blue Devils were one of a handful of teams around the area that had a game canceled due to COVID, including Tyrone.
One thing that remained normal was when there was football to be played, the Blue Devils ran roughshod on the rest of the Inter-County Conference.
Instead of opening the season with the Backyard Brawl, Bellwood began with a road game against one of their toughest ICC opponents in Northern Bedford. Despite a slow start, the Blue Devils came away with a 36-14 victory over the Panthers, which went on to win the District 5 Class A championship.
The Blue Devils went on to win their next four games easily over Everett (46-0), Glendale (47-0), Williamsburg (35-6), and West Branch (44-7). The Mount Union game was supposed to be the last regular season game before district playoffs started.
During the regular season, the PIAA announced that they would be playing the state championship games on Thanksgiving weekend, which forced District 6 to move up the start of the district playoffs to Oct. 23.
At 5-0, Bellwood earned the top seed and drew eighth-seeded Bald Eagle Area in the quarterfinals. In one of their closest games all season, the Blue Devils pulled out a 35-21 win.
However, the Blue Devils ran into a buzzsaw in the semifinals in Richland, which won the district championship the past two seasons. The Rams blanked B-A, 29-0, and also defeated Cambria Heights the week after for their third straight D-6 title.
Rather than end the season after the playoff loss, Bellwood decided to play one more game to end the season against Tyrone. For the second year in a row, Bellwood came out on top, 29-16, as the two rival schools played for nothing but pride and bragging rights.
It was the first time since the 1980s that Bellwood-Antis and Tyrone didn’t play the first game of the season.
“It was weird to end the season that way,” said Lovrich. “Everyone knows how big of a game that is not only for the teams, but for both communities. It is a great feeling winning that game no matter when it is. It gave us a positive note to end the year on and it gives us a good springboard going into next season.
“Our last three games we played were all tough. Bald Eagle was the AAA champion last year so they are used to playing in those big games. Richland was AA champ the past three years, and Tyrone played in the AAA championship the week before we played them.
“I think against Bald Eagle and Tyrone, we proved that we were a pretty good team. We were able to do a lot of things and we played a very physical game of football. Richland was a very good team. They had size, speed, and they were able to do a lot of things on both sides of the ball. We had a big empty feeling after that game, and I am sure that it will help motivate us for the future.”
But still, the wins and the success on the field weren’t even Lovrich’s favorite thing about the season.
“I think the best thing this season was the way the kids handled themselves,” he said. “None of them liked doing all the extra stuff or changing of what we normally do, but they all did it because they love the game of football and playing for Bellwood-Antis. They showed that B-A Pride in everything they did this season.”
There were also a few very good performances throughout the season, especially from senior running back Zach Mallon. Mallon reached the 1,000-yard mark in the last game against Tyrone, and he saved his best for last with a 244-yard performance with a pair of TDs against the Golden Eagles.
Junior quarterback Zach Pellegrine threw for 459 yards with 10 TDs and three interceptions for the year. Senior Owen Shedlock led the team’s receivers with 203 yards through the air.
There are also a few key pieces coming back next year on defense as sophomore Gaven Ridgway and junior Sean Mallon tied for the team lead in interceptions with three apiece. Another underclassmen in junior Cooper Guyer added two more picks.
It was the final season for seniors Nic Caracciolo, Zach Cunningham, Dalton Davis, Joe Dorminy, Taylor Karns, Zach Mallon, Ty Noonan, Nick Plank, Trenton Pellegrino, Shedlock, Arik Shildt, and Preston Wilson.
“This group of seniors was definitely a very successful group,” Lovrich said. “They were the first group to move up (to junior varsity/varsity) as freshmen with the ICC policy change. They had the benefit of playing that extra year and I think it really helped them develop as players. Zach Mallon and Nick Plank were three-year starters, which didn’t happen very often in the past. Every single one of them improved each year. Every single one of them had a great attitude and owned their role on the team. It didn’t matter if they played one play or 150 plays in a game, they were all a big part of our success. Each and every one of them were great to be around and work with. This group will be missed and we are very proud of the football player, and more importantly the young men, that they have become.”
The Blue Devils will still have plenty of weapons returning next season for what everyone is hoping is a more normal season in 2021 with stands filled at Memorial Stadium.
“Even though we graduate some very good football players, we still have some very good players coming back next year,” said Lovrich. “I think this group will be hungry to continue that journey to become the best football team we can become. We will be looking for some underclassmen to step up in the roles on the team to take the place of our graduating seniors. This group works very hard and they are very dedicated to becoming better. Hopefully we can have an uneventful offseason where things go back to normal. The guys will be biting at the bit to start back up again so they can make their mark on our football history.”