All McPeak could respond with was, “good luck with that.”
With his body pushed to the limits from throwing up most of the morning, the Redmen senior didn’t show Clear Fork any signs of weakness. He caught four passes for 151 total yards, including an 87-yard scoring toss with 27 seconds left in the third quarter to put his team up two scores.
Later, he intercepted a pass in the end zone and made a leaping catch on third-and-long deep in his own territory for a first down that helped Bellevue run the clock out in a 21-13 win the Division IV Region 14 semifinal at Arlin Field.
The Redmen (9-3), who avenged a 20-14 overtime loss to the Colts (11-1) in the process, will meet longtime Northern Ohio League rival Shelby — a 44-7 winner over St. Marys Memorial in the other semifinal — in next week’s finals at a site to be determined Sunday.
“Pretty tired. Exhausted really,” said McPeak, asked how he felt afterwards. “I’m pretty sick.
“I just tried to get the win with my boys. Didn’t want to let them down,” he added. “You never know when it could be your last game, so I wanted to go out there and battle it out with my friends. I was going to do all I could to get out on that field tonight.”
Clear Fork had Bellevue on the ropes much of the second half. Each of the Colts’ final four drives started in Redmen territory.
Bellevue’s defense made flur fourth-down stops on its side of the field, including three in the second half.
“These past couple weeks our defense has been playing very well,” McPeak said. “We’ve had very good practices and we’re all just keeping each other up. We feel very confident in each other.”
Two plays is all it took for the Redmen to hit paydirt to open the game. Following a short 4-yard run by Bryce Ray, Riley Renwand found Bryce McMurray cutting towards his sideline on a slant route. McMurray quickly cut upfield, then outran the coverage for a 69-yard scoring strike. Hunter Notke’s first extra point made it 7-0 just 53 seconds in.
But that’s where the offense really stopped for the Redmen, who were held to 121 first-half yards.
However, their defense held the Colts 96 yards. The lone score of the opening half for Clear Fork came on a fumble recovery that Trevon Trammell ran in from 5 yards out with 7:30 left in the second quarter.
“I think the defense ran to the ball well all night,” Bellevue coach Ed Nasonti said. “That (Clear For) quarterback (Blake Dinsmore) is slippery. He’s tough to take. But we told these kids at halftime, we didn’t play a perfect game, but we were still right in there at 7-7.
“The regional semifinal is supposed to be a tough game,” he added.
Bellevue, which made its hay rushing the ball in recent weeks, only had 11 yards in the opening half. The Redmen ran for 355 yards in their opening-round 34-6 win at Pepper Pike Orange. Friday, they finished with 120 on 29 attempts.
Bellevue outgained Clear Fork 354-179, including 234-8 through the air.
The Redmen gave the Colts a second chance early in the third quarter on a bizarre series of events. McMurray got a piece of a punt, but a Bellevue up-man touched the ball and a Clear Fork player fell on it at the Redmen 41. McMurray made another big defensive play, though, four plays later, turning the Colts over on downs when he and Jack Howey combined on a sack.
One play later, Treston Francis — who ran for 193 yards and four scores a week ago — took a direct snap in the Wildcat formation and ran 58 yards to put Bellevue up 14-7 with 4:08 to go in the third quarter.
Francis finished with 113 yards on 13 touches.
McPeak then made his big catch a series later after Clear Fork pinned the Redmen at their 10. On the second play, Renwand under threw McPeak a bit, but he adjusted to make a leaping catch, while catching his feet at the 50. The coverage behind him fell down, leaving him free to run the remaining distance to put Bellevue up 21-7.
“I didn’t know where he was actually. I just I got a good release on him,” McPeak said. “I jumped and caught it and stayed on my feet.”
Added Nasonti: “(The Colts) made their mind up that they were going to stop the run, and they loaded the box up, so we were one-on-one out there. We don’t see many people try to play one-on-one with Dakota McPeak or (Treston) Francis. We tried to take advantage of that.”
Renwand completed 7-of-17 attempts for 234 yards and two scores.
“Credit to Riley, he stays warm and keeps his mind focused,” Nasonti said. “It’d be like taking a relief pitcher out, putting him back in, then taking him back out. He comes in, does a nice job and completed some passes for us.”
The Redmen spent much of the second half chasing around Dismore, who ran for 115 yards on 29 attempts. His 23-yard scoring run with 10:44 got Clear Fork within eight.
Despite the offense slowing down, McPeak still managed another big play on defense, intercepting Dismore in the end zone for a touchback with 4:57 left.
“Lots of grape Pedialyte and Gatorade,” said McPeak of what got him ready to perform.
Bellevue, which last won a regional title in 2012 on its way to the Div. III state finals, lost to Shelby 46-0 in Week 4. Still, it’s not like the Redmen haven’t had a history of wins against this particular group of Whippets.
Bellevue’s seniors beat Shelby both in 2014 (41-14) and 2015 (42-14) and lost 49-34 a year ago.
“We’re looking forward to it,” he said. “We’re going to enjoy this one tonight. But we’re happy to be playing for a regional championship. That speaks well of the kids in our program and our coaches all around. “