Tornadoes grind out win over Bellevue

PHOTO BY STEVE WILLIAMS Columbian’s Drake DeVore gets past Bellevue defender Hunter Nottke and closes on Bellevue tailback Jack Howey Friday in Tiffin.

With the ball at the Bellevue 12-yard line and facing a fourth down and three early in the fourth quarter, Columbian coach Judd Lutz had a decision to make.

His team had come out hot, scoring touchdowns on its first two possessions of the game.

But Bellevue responded, scoring two touchdowns of its own.

With less than 11 ½ minutes left in regulation, the Tornadoes were trailing the Redmen, 14-13.

Lutz had to decide whether to keep his offense on the field, or turn to his kicker, Xavier Coppus.

“We’re pretty aggressive. In most situations, yeah, we’re a go-for-it sort of team,” Lutz said. “But, down one at that point, we want to get the lead back. That’s real big.”

Coppus had an extra point blocked in the first quarter. But that didn’t shake his coach’s confidence. Without much hesitation, Lutz sent out Coppus and the field goal team.

Coppus came through, drilling the 29-yarder. From there, Columbian’s defense held Bellevue, and the Tornadoes were able to grind out a 16-14 win at Frost-Kalnow Stadium.

“I trust that kid, at that yardage, to get it done, and he did,” Lutz said. “No doubt he’ll do it over and over again if called upon.”

It was a big win for the Tornadoes, who improved to 7-1, 2-1 in the Sandusky Bay Conference Lake Division. It also kept alive the Tornadoes chance for a share of the league title. TC faces Perkins next week, then travels to league-leading Norwalk for the regular season finale.

The Tornadoes also helped their playoff chances in Division III; TC came in seventh in its region.

Bellevue lost despite another steady performance from its defense, and another stellar night from

quarterback Keegan Ray.

Ray ran 21 times for 133 yards, and completed 9 of 18 passes for 131. He was intercepted in the fourth quarter by Columbian’s Chase Frankhauser.

“Anytime you lose a one or two-point game, it’s tough,” Nasonti said. “But I’m proud of our kids. I thought they played hard. Our kids laid it on the line.”

For the third time this season, Columbian scored on its first offensive play of the game. This time, with the game scoreless, a Bellevue punt had pinned the Tornadoes at their 10.

But on first down, Frankhauser threw a strike to Nick Koerper, who caught the ball and raced to the end zone. The Tornadoes went up 7-0.

Lutz said there was no real secret to the team’s first-play success.

“Simply coincidence, but great execution by our players, and great execution by the coaches, drawing up some pretty good looks, right off the rip,” he said.

After the Tornadoes stopped a Bellevue drive that went deep into Columbian territory, the Tornadoes struck again.

This time it was Frankhauser galloping 43 yards to the end zone. The PAT was blocked, and the TC lead was 13-0 with 3:49 left in the first quarter.

“A lot of those are reads, where he’s making the correct read and making a play,” Lutz said of his quarterback. “There’s a reason he’s been a two-year captain for us, and a great football player. Very happy he’s on our side.”

Frankhauser ran 17 times for 102 yards, while completing 10 of 19 passes for 187 yards. Meanwhile, Koerper had five receptions for 143 yards.

Columbian appeared to have the momentum after one quarter.

But Bellevue responded. A number of key runs from Ray set up a two-yard touchdown run by Jack Howey with 7:29 left in the first half. Then, trailing 13-7, Bellevue withstood a Columbian march that moved inside the Redmen 10. After a Tornado fumble, Bellevue went 94 yards in an eight-play march that took 3:20.

Again, it was Howey who capped it, this time going six yards into the end zone with 27 seconds left in the half.

That score held until the fourth quarter.

Nasonti praised his defense.

“You’ve got a team like this that’s very explosive, and been scoring at will on people … they have the capability at any time to pop it,” he said. “They’ve got running backs, they’ve got receivers, they’re fast. So, if you’d have told me, noon today, that you’re gonna come into Tiffin and hold them to 16 points, I’d have taken it.”

But Bellevue was unable to score after the break. A big reason was TC lineman Drake DeVore, who had a key sack of Ray in the second half, and made a number of key stops.

“Drake DeVore’s a pretty good football player, and he had an outstanding game. An outstanding game,” Lutz said. “It shows why he’s one of the best offensive and defensive linemen in the area, as far as I’m concerned. We’re gonna lean on him, big time, to make big time plays in big games. He did that tonight. He balled out, and it was awesome. Kudos to him.”

Bellevue had one last drive with less than three minutes to go, but failed to get the ball beyond its 13. Columbian took over, and Frankhauser converted a key third down with a run that allowed the Tornadoes to run out the clock.

Bellevue dropped to 5-3, 1-2 in the SBC. Like the Tornadoes, the Redmen are chasing a playoff spot, but they are in Division IV.

“I like the fight in our kids; they had the fighting spirit,” Nasonti said. “We’ve got some resilience here with our kids, and we’ve got good leadership. I gotta a good coaching staff, and we’ll be back.”