MISSION VIEJO, Calif. – When Bellevue football players gathered in the locker room, there wasn’t a big halftime speech.
Sure, the Wolverines trailed by three against California powerhouse Oaks Christian, but coach Butch Goncharoff didn’t waste time yelling or cramming in cliches.
He made adjustments.
He tweaked a few aspects of Bellevue’s blocking scheme, reminded his players to do a better job of keeping their composure and stressed that the key to second-half success started with cutting down mistakes.
That’s all it took. The Wolverines scored on their first drive of the second half and never looked back during a 31-21 victory over the Lions, ranked No. 13 in USA Today’s Super 25, Saturday at the Mission Viejo High School Football Classic.
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“This group had heart, and I think that was great,” Goncharoff said. “You just don’t know how your team’s going to battle, and they came up big.”
With the win, the Wolverines improved to 5-2 against out-of-state opponents under Goncharoff.
While the halftime adjustments proved to be the difference, it was senior Tyler Hasty who made the big plays that put 22nd-ranked Bellevue in a position to rally for the victory.
It was Hasty who picked off a pass on the Lions’ first drive of the game to set up Mitch Johnson’s 28-yard field goal. And it was Hasty who wrestled the ball away from Oaks Christian standout Ishmael Adams after a 48-yard completion.
“Hasty was ridiculous tonight,” Goncharoff said. “Tyler came to play and he’s grown up a lot. He was arguably the best player on the field.”
Hasty’s penchant for playmaking set the tone for his teammates and helped limit the Lions’ lead to just three at halftime.
“We were able to just battle the whole game,” said Hasty who, in addition to forcing three turnovers, rushed for 75 yards and completed 5 of 6 passes for 46 yards. “We were down at half, but we knew, if we kept on battling, we’d come out on top.”
The Wolverines (1-0) were close after two quarters, but they looked like a different team to start the third quarter. On the first play of the second half, John Nguyen sprinted up the middle for 38 yards. Three plays later, Joey Moore scored on a 15-yard run.
“I felt the energy just rushing through my body,” said Nguyen, who rushed for 146 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries. “I really picked up my tempo and just stepped it up.”
With momentum shifting and Bellevue driving later in the quarter, Ari Morales caught the corner and appeared to be wrapped up about 10 yards downfield. However, the 160-pound junior shook off the Oaks Christian defender and finished off a 23-yard touchdown run.
“I kind of surprised myself,” said Morales, who rushed for 53 yards on seven carries. “I lowered my shoulder, kept driving my knees and it got me to the end zone.”
Then in the fourth quarter, with the Lions (0-1) needing a field goal to tie the game and the Wolverines trying to extend a drive and work some time off the clock, Bishard Baker broke outside with two Lions closing fast. He cut up field, split the defenders and got just enough for a first down.
Faced with third-and-15 later in the drive, Hasty found Moore for an 18-yard completion — the ball appeared to hit the turf, but was ruled a catch — that set up Nguyen’s second score.
With Oaks Christian trying make one last comeback, it was Hasty who provided the fitting finish, picking off a pass to seal the win.
“We came in being the underdogs,” Hasty said. “We’re Bellevue, so we’re usually not the team that’s picked to lose the game, so it feels great to come out on top.”