SULLIVAN TWP. — Russell Bell’s lowlight put him in position for a truly memorable highlight.
The Black River junior was moved from cornerback to safety in favor of Andrew Vaughn after allowing the game-tying two-point conversion to Lutheran West wideout Brad Warkin in the fourth quarter. Bell had every reason to lose confidence, but instead intercepted Greg Kunze in overtime to secure a wild 36-30 victory.
The Pirates (2-2, 1-0) again defeated the underrated Longhorns (2-2, 0-1) in OT after taking a 31-30 decision in 2012. This Patriot Athletic Conference cross-division game came with an asterisk, as the final 2½ quarters were played Saturday afternoon following a lightning postponement the night before.
“This really means a lot to our team,” Bell said. “We’ve been down in the slumps and our defense came and stepped it up. Our offense was amazing. It’s really hitting home with us.”
Lutheran West dodged a bullet when Black River kicker John Ternes’ 22-yard field goal attempt barely got off the ground with seconds remaining in regulation.
The Longhorns elected to play defense in overtime, but lost the momentum they worked so hard to gain when Bell’s younger brother, fullback David Bell (25 carries, 165 yards, 2 TDs), took a trap to paydirt on the first play of overtime. Vaughn (28 carries, 256 yards, 3 TDs) was stopped on the two-point conversion.
The Longhorns promptly got first-and-goal from the 9-yard line, but Black River linebacker Pat McIntyre stuffed Adam Felten (15 carries, 64 yards), who went 47 yards to the house on the second play of the game’s restart to tie things at 22, for a 2-yard loss.
That set up Russell Bell’s shining moment.
Operating out of the power-I formation, Kunze (10-for-19 passing, 150 yards; 12 carries, 60 yards, 3 total TDs) executed a perfect play-fake and had a wide-open running back in the right flat. The 6-foot-3 senior lofted what appeared to be the game-tying score, but Bell came out of nowhere and intercepted the pass on a dead sprint.
Unsure of how to celebrate, the 5-9, 155-pounder simply ran toward his teammates, who mobbed him on the mud-caked field in joy.
“They moved me to free safety, I saw him uncovered and came up hoping they would throw the ball,” Bell said. “They did, and I did my best to catch it or knock it down.
“I was stunned. I grabbed the ball and was standing there and thought, ‘That’s the game. We did it again.’”
Behind a defense that was tumultuous save for three big plays — the Longhorns gained 142 of their 273 yards on three touchdowns — the Pirates hung around and went on a grueling march to take a 30-22 lead.
Only two snaps of the 15-play, 65-yard drive gained more than 6 yards. David Bell (8 carries, 36 yards), Vaughn (6, 19) and Aaron Schmitz (1, 5) carried the load, and David Bell scored the touchdown and two-point conversion with 5:46 left.
Like the lightning bolts that circled Art Stevenson Field 18 hours earlier, Lutheran West, which allowed 522 yards overall but held Vaughn to 97 on 20 touches Saturday, answered with a fury.
Kunze dropped back two plays later and found a wide-open Aaron Geye on a 48-yard seam route for a TD. Lutheran West called timeout, then tossed over top of Russell Bell to the 6-4 Warnkin for the game-tying conversion.
The Longhorns caught Black River completely off guard when kicker Andrew O’Hara recovered his own onside attempt, but the Pirates defense held firm.
“We knew we had to buckle down,” said Vaughn, who broke up a third-down pass attempt to Warkin on the drive. “We couldn’t just sit there and say, ‘Aw, it’s over now.’
“Black River football is all about fighting back and responding to adversity against us. We come out and battled back. That’s what it’s all about.”
Black River made one more push to stop the bleeding.
The Pirates took over on their own 41 with 1:51 left. Aaron Schmitz gained 13 yards on a third-and-10 counter, Vaughn snared a 23-yard reception — it was Vernon Beard’s lone completion in eight attempts — and David Bell covered 13 yards over the next two plays to bring up first-and-goal at the 10.
Consecutive incompletions gave way for Schmitz to gain 4 yards on another counter. During a timeout, Black River coach Al Young elected to kick a field goal but changed his mind and sent the offense back out. Lutheran West called a timeout of its own when the Pirates lined up in a spread formation, leading to Young changing his mind again.
The snap was a tad slow and high, and Ternes, who was filling in for injured freshman Cody Bartolic (concussion), couldn’t get the ball over the wall, sending the game into overtime.
Luckily for the Pirates, Russell Bell allowed them to ring their victory bell.
“We were pushed in a corner, and when you push someone into a corner, they’re going to react,” McIntyre said. “We reacted. We got the interception and everybody went crazy.”
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or firstname.lastname@example.org.