Ten years ago, Bellmont stood atop the Class 3A football world.
Led by the likes of offensive studs Trent Busse and Nick Hall and a beastly defensive front seven, the Braves won their first and only state championship. The 14-1 season was capped with a 28-14 win over Evansville Memorial at Lucas Oil Stadium.
A decade later, Bellmont is making waves again. But this time, those waves are completely unexpected.
The Braves went 0-9 in the regular season. While three of its losses came by six points or less, the fact was that Bellmont entered the playoffs without a victory for the first time since 1999.
All anyone wanted to talk about was the seemingly inevitable Concordia vs. Bishop Luers matchup in the finals of Sectional 28.
But Bellmont had others plans.
A win in Week 10 over Garrett gave the Braves confidence. A 28-21 shocker against Concordia last Friday put the program on the map for the first time this season.
“We are going to play in November,” said Bellmont coach Marty Ballard earlier this week. It’s an absolute privilege and who would have thought it with the start to our season?”
Week 1 saw Bellmont fall to Adams Central by 28 points. The defeats piled up from there. South Adams. Columbia City. Norwell. Huntington North.
Loss after loss after loss.
There were some positives. Bellmont has scored in double digits in every game this season. The defense, a sieve at the beginning of the year, showed improvement with each passing week.
But most importantly, the Braves never lost the will to work hard and believe that the team could win a game.
So when Bellmont drew a rebuilding Garrett team to open the postseason, Ballard saw an opportunity. He believed all his team needed was a win to re-energize them. The Railroaders offered a great shot at that win.
A pair of Johnathan Wilder touchdowns – one passing and one rushing – propelled Bellmont to a 16-6 victory in Week 10. The defense showcased its improvement by holding Garrett to a single score.
“The confidence the kids gained from (the win) on both sides of the ball was big, especially the defense,” Ballard said. “They had been giving up huge chunks of yards all year and we didn’t give up any big plays (against Garrett).”
Despite the victory, no one outside of Decatur expected what happened last week.
After giving up 21 points in the first half, Bellmont pitched a shutout over the final 24 minutes against Concordia. A 58-yard touchdown run by Colin Mills proved to be the winning points in a 28-21 victory.
From 0-9 to 2-9 and playing for a sectional championship at home on Friday against Bishop Luers (7-4).
“The kids never really lost that demeanor and focus,” Ballard said. “Last year we won two games and our morale was nowhere to be found. I could see it, even after the East Noble loss to end the regular season, that our kids hadn’t lost focus and were ready to hit the reset button.”
Now, the Braves must hit reset again. As challenging as the Cadets were, Luers brings more speed and athleticism to the field. But Ballard has learned one thing after Luers scored on four returns last week.
“Don’t kick to them,” said Ballard with a laugh.
Bellmont is Exhibit A on why everyone makes the playoffs in Indiana. While some states have complicated algorithms and points systems to decide who plays into the postseason, Indiana keeps it simple – if you’re an IHSAA school, you play in Week 10.
For the Braves, that has also meant they have played in Week 11 and now Week 12.
“Playing and beating an SAC big dog is a confidence booster,” Ballard said. “Luers has put up a lot of points, but has also been scored upon a lot.
“We have told the guys, ‘You can play with anybody. You are playing with the big dogs now. You can do it.”
Win or lose on Friday, Bellmont football has made some fans over the last few weeks. This season may not end with a state championship as it did 10 years ago, but it has created some good memories no one thought possible just a few weeks ago.
“This will be remembered awhile, especially if we can come out Friday at home with a trophy,” Ballard said. “It would pay huge dividends for our community.”