Bellinotti makes big plays as Shady Side Academy beats Apollo-Ridge

Saturday, October 9, 2021 | 7:07 PM

Shady Side Academy’s Joey Bellinotti made a considerable number of big plays Saturday afternoon.

Among them a 32-yard touchdown catch, an interception and a blocked extra point.

But a play Bellinotti made that started with a bobble turned out to be a key to the Bulldogs’ 28-14 victory over Apollo-Ridge in an Allegheny Conference game.

After Apollo-Ridge had cut into a 21-point Shady Side lead, Bellinotti took a bouncing kickoff and bobbled it slightly. By the time he got going, the blocking was set up and Bellinotti made a 37-yard return to the Vikings’ 41. On the following play, Nate Mallory got behind the Apollo-Ridge defense and snared a 41-yard scoring pass to secure the victory.

“That was a huge response right there,” Shady Side coach Chuck DiNardo said. “They had 14 unanswered points right there, and so for Joey to take that kickoff and run it back past midfield gave us some momentum. That was huge.”

Bellinotti said: “I knew we were in a do-or-die moment in a close game, so I knew I had to get something going on that play.”

That final touchdown also was important because it gave Shady Side (4-3, 1-1) a 14-point win, meaning the Bulldogs garner the maximum 10 Gardner Points should a tiebreaker criteria become necessary. The WPIAL only is taking three teams from the Allegheny Conference to the playoffs, a fourth berth could come about with Gardner Points.

The Vikings (2-4, 1-1) had the ball inside the Bulldogs’ 10 three times in the first half, only to take procedure penalties that led to losing the ball on downs each time.

“If we score on any of those three, it changes the game all the way around,” Apollo-Ridge coach John Skiba said. “We didn’t. We had a lot of miscues. It was a different person every time. So we all take the blame for it, and I take the blame for it, too. We had a bad first half.”

Shady Side opened the scoring on a 64-yard jet sweep by Isaiah Grier. After the Vikings lost the ball on downs at the Bulldogs’ 13, Shady Side drove 87 yards in six plays, with Bellinotti making a leaping catch over an Apollo-Ridge defender in the end zone.

Chris Sullivan’s 17-yard run put Shady Side ahead, 21-0, with 1 minute, 28 seconds left in the third quarter.

But the Vikings came storming back, finally breaking through on Nick Curci’s 10-yard run. Bellinotto blocked the extra point attempt, but Landon Harmon recovered a Bulldogs fumble and Apollo-Ridge was back in business.

Despite a fourth procedure penalty inside the 10, sophomore quarterback Karter Schrock ran for 10 yards and Curci took a direct snap for a 2-point conversion, giving the Vikings two touchdowns in 2 ½ minutes.

Said Skiba: “We struggled matching things early, but we did some things I was happy with in the second half. We fought. The kids are battling, but we’ve got to get better.”

Max Wickland completed 13 of 16 passes for 205 yards, and Grier had 106 rushing yards in four carries.

But Shady Side committed 102 yards in penalties.

“Where we are in the season right now, we considered this a critical game,” DiNardo said. “For us to come out and hit a few plays was great, but there are some things we have to work on. There’s a few things we have to clean up, but it’s good to get a win on homecoming day.”

Curci had 151 yards on 21 carries, and Schrock had 96 rushing yards and 85 passing yards.

Apollo-Ridge returns home to play Serra Catholic on Friday. Shady Side travels to Steel Valley.

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