A "championship moment" for Bel Air's football team might not get any better than its 14-13 victory over C. Milton Wright 10 XTC days ago. It suddenly made all the drills worthwhile.
More importantly, the team was able to put that game aside right away, for it came back Thursday night with a 34-0 conquest of visiting Edgewood, its fifth straight win after starting the season with three losses.
Calling the two-minute drills (for offense and defense) a "championship moment" was one of several ideas instituted by first-year head coach Bruce Riley. It places the players in a position to excel -- mentally as well as physically -- at the end of a game.
Senior defensive back Joe Strazzire was the one in the spotlight against Wright, knocking down quarterback Mike Schmidt on a fourth-down option play and leaving the Mustangs shy of a first down at the Bel Air 26 with 1:10 left.
The upset brought a shocking end to Wright's 39-game regular-season winning streak.
Bel Air struggled to open the season, coming up a touchdown short against Kenwood and falling to Joppatowne in the last 1:30. The Bobcats were down by two points to Fallston with five minutes left before losing, 25-14.
"For those first three games, the offense put points on the board, and the defense let down," Strazzire said. "Against Aberdeen [the team's first win, 26-12], the defense stepped up, and we're still getting better. Our mental toughness, our intensity, are at a higher level, and now we know we can shut people down."
Offensively, according to senior center Jeramiah Bowling, "It seemed as though the other teams got the breaks in those first three games. They all went against us. Then, we started pulling together and didn't let the other teams get those breaks."
It is not surprising it took this team a while to win. There were 19 holdovers from a year ago when, as one veteran expressed it, "We were a team playing as individuals. The players were out for their own goals."
Riley and his staff started with a run-and-shoot offense, but put it aside for a power formation geared to the inside-outside running abilities of 230-pound Dick Barwick and speedster Terry Vail, both seniors.
Asked about the new running game, Vail said, "I'm confident as )) long as he's [Barwick] in front of me."
The traffic director is quarterback Tony Belcastro, a 5-foot-7, 140-pound junior who has elevated his game to where he is the county's No. 1 passer.
"We had a lot of people telling us he couldn't do things, he wasn't tall enough, he wasn't this or wasn't that," said assistant Doug Dempsey, who coaches the offense. "One of the most impressive things about him, though, is his confidence.
"We talked with the quarterback candidates, and told Tony [who missed most of last year's JV season with a broken finger] he was a junior, was the shortest, did not have the strongest arm, and would have seniors ahead of him, but he said, 'Give me a shot, I'll win the job.' "
This group certainly wants to leave its mark. As senior linebacker Jason Krout said, "Overall, during the first three weeks we did not play as a team. There was a lot of miscommunication and arguing in the huddle.
"We saw the season slipping away and could see us being just another Bel Air team. We wanted to stand out." The Bobcats have earned that distinction. they are assured of the school's first non-losing year since 1989, and one win in its last two games would bring the first winning season since 1986.
Two senior starters putting the stamp on this team are tight end Victor Smith and linebacker Brian Seccurro.
Smith said, "We're starting something that will make people want to play football for Bel Air High School."
Seccurro, a team captain with Barwick and Bowling, and the defensive leader, put the cap on it. "Even with the C. Milton win, people were still skeptical. The big difference is we know we are totally different from the past," he said. "We want to make people turn their heads. We're building something for the future."