Bellevue returns to Tiffin for NOL showdown

It’s Columbian’s closest Northern Ohio League rival and a game that always has an impact on the NOL race.

It’s Bellevue Week.

Last year the Tornadoes got the best of the Redmen in Tiffin en route to a perfect regular season and the NOL title. It was the only blemish on Bellevue’s record until the Redmen reached the Division III state championship game.

Due to a scheduling quirk due to NOL expansion, the rivalry returns to Frost-Kalnow Stadium tonight. Both teams enter tonight’s game with unbeaten league marks. Columbian at 2-0, Bellevue 1-0.

“It’s been a rivalry for a long time. Partially because of the closeness of the two towns and also because, for about the last 30 years, most years Tiffin and Bellevue are near the top of the NOL,” said Columbian coach Brian Colatruglio. “It’s pretty much been the case, to win the league, you got to take care of Bellevue. We’ve put ourselves in a position to really take a huge step towards a lot of our goals with this game this week.”

The personnel may change but the intensity does not. Jalen Santoro, the Bellevue QB who gave Colatruglio and the Tornadoes many headaches the past few years now resides in Tiffin wearing the green and gold of TU. But in his place are several dangerous weapons.

“(Josh) McNeely, they move him around kind of like we’ve done in the past,” Colatruglio said. “They’ll put him at quarterback and do some stuff in the run game, and they’ll move him out to receiver. He’s probably they’re best athlete. They have several running backs that are pretty good … They’ll rotate a bunch of guys. Their quarterback, it was his first game last week, but he can throw the ball. It’s a little different than what they’ve done in the past. With Santoro they were more run-oriented. With (Tristen) Snezek, they’re going to throw the ball a lot more. He’s got a strong arm and they got some good receivers.”

To counter, Columbian fields a strong defensive unit that Colatruglio says has been instrumental in his team’s 4-1 start.

“We’re 4-1 because we’ve played great defense,” he said. “We’ve done a great job of keeping teams out of the end zone, really making teams fight for every yard they get.”

Columbian has some weapons of its own on the offensive side of the ball, and will get another one back this week as Donovan Walker will play his first game after sitting out the first half of the season.

After scoring just seven points in a season opening loss to Clyde, Columbian’s offense has steadily improved, culminating in last week’s 42-point outburst at Sandusky.

“I think we’ve improved every week that we’ve played. We’ve shown a little bit of growth and become a little bit more diverse, and get more guys involved every single week. And we hope to continue that,” he said. “We had some growing pains early; we played some young guys. But those young guys keep getting better.

“We got the veteran leaders that have carried us to this point with (running back Ryan) Lynch and Isiah (Moore) and Austin Thallman up front. Wow, we’re just starting to hit our stride offensively. There’s no limit to how good we can be. We got a ton of guys that can run and catch and block. We’re just starting to scratch the surface of how good our offense can be.”

Kickoff is at 7 p.m.