Bellwood-Antis' eye-catching 51-point District 6 Class A championship game win against Bishop McCort last week would have been a fitting climax to the Blue Devils' 2012 high school football season if not for one not-so-minor detail.
The season isn't over yet.
Kind of like the last hour of Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy that seemed to end about four different times, the Blue Devils' campaign has at least three more games to be played if their fantasy is to be fulfilled. The next step in that scenario is a PIAA quarterfinal-round date tonight with Delone Catholic, the District 3 champion, at 7 p.m. at Mansion Park.
"I've always told the kids the district championship is the end of one season," B-A coach John Hayes said, "and this is the start of another one. We're starting over. It's one game at a time. It's won or done."
Probably better known in these parts for a terrific girls basketball program that has won multiple state championships under Altoona native Gerry Eckenrode, Delone also has experienced a great deal of success on the football field. The Squires' victory over Steelton-Highspire last week gave the program its eighth District 3 championship.
However, all but one of those has come in double-A.
"This is the first time we've been single-A in about 12 years. When we dropped to single-A, I thought, at the district level, we'd have a pretty good chance to compete for a championship," said Squires coach Steve Wiles, who has taken the team to the playoffs and won at least nine games in all six years he's been at the helm. "The kids thought it was a realistic goal for us. My biggest concern was how we were going to do in our league and if we were going to qualify for the playoffs."
The thing that stands out most about Delone is its ability to put points on the board. In spite of playing a schedule consisting predominantly of larger schools, the Squires have scored 40 points or more seven times.
"They are balanced. All the backs get involved. They share things pretty good," Hayes said. "The quarterback [Brett Smith] is a three-year starter, and he's the guy that kind of stirs everything. He's a feature guy, kind of like [Danny Ferens] from Penns Manor or the way we use Seth [Worthing].
"They're very formidable."
The Squires utilize a more traditional style of the Wing-T with some more recent variations. Junior fullback Matt Guiffreda leads Delone in rushing with 832 yards, but Smith and halfbacks Lance Reneker and Nick Braun all have 460 yards or more, although Braun has been out the last few games.
As a team, Delone runs for more than 250 yards per game.
"Our fullback's starting to emerge here, but we're pretty balanced," Wiles said. "Our quarterback's been playing pretty well, too, so that's helped."
In addition to running for 460 yards, Smith has thrown for 1,078. He has 14 touchdowns passing and nine more rushing.
"Our line was definitely the question mark coming into the season, because we only had a few starters back. But, once we found those new guys, they worked hard, and they did a heck of a job," Smith said.
It didn't click overnight for the Squires. They lost their season-opener to Trinity, were 1-2 through three games and 3-3 heading into week 7.
"It was a real challenge. After the games, we came together and put it behind us. Our goals were still available. Every time, we bounced back with a win, which was nice," Smith said. "I think the biggest thing is our fight. We don't quit until the end."
Delone's defense has been exploited at times, but the Squires only surrendered 29 points in their two District 3 playoff games.
"The defense seems like it is getting better each week," Wiles said. "I do think our defense really has picked it up over the last month or so and seems to be playing better. I saw Bellwood last week, and they have a lot of speed. It will definitely be a challenge for us."
Bellwood will be making its first interdistrict playoff appearance since losing to Steel-High in the 2007 quarterfinals, capping a period of three trips to states in four years for the Devils. Although Hayes said he doesn't have the most vocal group of players, he's sensed the excitement building in the last couple of weeks.
"We have something to show for where we've been so far, but I think these kids' goals are expanding," Hayes said. "I think they realize that it's not easy, and nothing's given. We'll get back to work."