HASTINGS -- When opportunity knocked, Jared Bellar answered . . . twice.
Bellar's 70-yard punt return for a touchdown, and first-down catch on fourth down helped Battle Creek outlast Hastings St. Cecilia 21-14 in Class C2 state quarterfinal action here Tuesday night.
Battle Creek will now host Doniphan-Trumbull on Tuesday, Nov. 19.
Tied at 7 midway through the second quarter, Bellar fielded a punt on the Braves' 30 yard line and proceed to turn in a play which left Braves fans begging for a replay.
“I got a great block on the edge and saw an opening and took it,” Bellar said. “A guy hit me down by my knees, and as I rolled off, my butt rolled over his shoulder pads and my knees never hit the ground. I put my hand on the ground, got by balance and just kept running.”
According to his coach Andrew Carlson, the Braves' special teams have been special all season.
“We have some great athletes at our returner spots, but the guys that set it up -- our blockers -- have done a really good job for us also,” Carlson said.
St. Cecilia answered with a 16-play 68-yard drive, tying the score at 14 with nine seconds to go in the half.
After intermission, the Braves defense seemed on a mission, holding the Bluehawks to just 17 yards, not counting a 25-yard desperation scramble on the game's final play.
“Our defense has played well in the playoffs,” Battle Creek coach Andrew Carlson said. “Week in, week out, they're just getting better and better.”
Following a scoreless third quarter, the Braves saved their best drive for crunch time.
Starting at its own 39, Battle Creek drove 61 yards on 12 plays. Perhaps none of the dozen were bigger than Bellar's 12-yard catch on fourth-and-10 from the Bluehawks' 28 yard line.
“We're more of a running team, double tight, so Jared doesn't get on the field as much. But he's athletic and we try to utilize him when we can,” Carlson said. “Tonight he was a star. He played really well.”
Jared deflected credit for the critical play to his twin brother, Zach.
“I knew I was inbounds and my brother threw a great ball,” Jared said. “It was a big play.”
Five plays later, Derek Renner stormed in from six yards out with the go-ahead touchdown.
Each team punted six times, and neither reach 200 yards of total offense.
“We're a black and blue team and we're just going to try and smash on people and be as physical as we can,” Carlson said. “That's just been our ingredient for success. We've just been grinding.The kids have been working hard and finding ways to win games at the end. They're pretty resilient.”
This time, junior Jake Finkral did the honors, picking off a tipped Bluehawks' pass with just 4:18 to play.
“It seemed like it was just floating right to me and I just tried to make the play,” Finkral said.
The Braves were able to run the clock down to inside a minute to play before a punt pinned the Bluehawks at their 10 yard line with just 38 second to play.
As it had all night, the Braves defense stood tall when it needed to.
“Our defensive line was shedding blocks and making plays. And when they weren't, they were taking on the blockers so us linebackers could run free,” Finkral said. “When you have a guy like Louis deJager in front of you, it makes things a lot easier. We just get him lined up in the right place and he does the rest. The kid knows how to play football.”
The Braves are back in the semifinals for the first time since 1996.
“It's hard to explain what we've been through, but our seniors, and this whole team really, never gives up,” Finkral said. “We've had to handle a lot of adversity, but nothing seems to phase us.”
Battle Creek 0 14 0 7 -- 21
Hastings St. Cecilia 7 7 0 0 -- 14
HSC: Zach Glass 3 run (Grant Schmidt kick), 3:49.
BC: Zach Bellar 1 run (Z. Bellar kick), 7:39.
BC: Jared Bellar 70 punt return (Z. Bellar kick), 5:34.
HSC: Patrick Hermann 1 run (Schmidt kick), :09.
BC: Derek Renner 6 run (Bellar kick), 7:34.
First downs 7 8
Rushes/yards 41/107 41/131
Passing 2-11-2 3-5-0
Passing yards 40 51
Fumbles/lost 1-1 3-0
Penalties/yards 6-38 4-18
Punts/average 6-28.8 6-34.5
RUSHING -- (BC) Trev Bode 11-46; Derek Renner 13-43; Jordan Zautke 10-32; Zach Bellar 6-6; Jared Bellar 1-4. (HSC) Patrick Hermann 24-55; Jake Kadow 1-25; Avery Driscoll 7-23; Tyler Willnerd 4-6; Canon Howell 5 (minus 2).
PASSING -- (BC) Zach Bellar 3-5-0, 51. (HSC) Canon Howell 2-9-40-1; Jake Kadow 0-1-1, 0; Avery Driscoll 0-1-0, 0.