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Dayton remains perfect with 22-13 win over Bellevue in annual Battle for the Paddle showdown

By Don Owen
NKyTribune sports editor

BELLEVUE — When the undefeated meets the winless at the midway point of a football season, the outcome is usually a formality. Name the score. Start the running clock now.

Unless it’s a neighborhood rivalry.

That’s what happened Friday night in the annual Battle for the Paddle at Bellevue’s Gilligan Field. Unbeaten Dayton — looking to go 5-0 for the first time in recorded history — squared off against a winless Bellevue squad (0-4) that hadn’t tasted victory in almost a year.

Dayton quarterback Nolan Brooks finds an opening against Bellevue on Friday. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

Bellevue’s most recent win? A 21-12 triumph against Dayton on Oct. 11, 2019.

“You throw out the records in this game. There is no 4-0 or 0-4 when these two teams meet,” Dayton head coach Jesse Herbst said. “This is the oldest rivalry in the state. I knew this would be a dogfight. We prepared that way all week knowing Bellevue would be tough.”

The unbeaten Greendevils needed no reminders about last year and toughed out a 22-13 win over Bellevue on Friday night. Dayton (5-0) shook off three first-quarter fumbles and picked off a pair of Bellevue passes in the final four minutes of the game to seal the victory.

“We came out tonight and tried to beat ourselves. We ran six plays the entire first quarter with three turnovers,” Herbst said. “We were our own worst enemy in the first half. But our guys pulled it together in the second half and made big plays. The Dayton/Bellevue matchup is always going to be this way. It’s a very tough game, two big rivals and a dogfight every time.”

Dayton quarterback Nolan Brooks provided the big plays for the Greendevils, who rallied from a 7-6 halftime deficit. Facing a fourth-and-goal from the 12-yard line, Brooks scampered around the left end and dove into the end zone for Dayton’s first score with 2:41 remaining before the half.

“I can’t say enough about (Brooks) and the way he played,” Herbst said, noting his senior quarterback played hurt the entire game after suffering a shoulder or collarbone injury. “He is an amazing kid, very tough. He was hurting, but he played hurt the entire game. I love Nolan. He’s our leader and he showed why with his toughness.”

Brooks rushed for a game-high 96 yards (7.4 per carry) and completed three of four pass attempts for another 36 yards.

Bellevue quarterback Colton Hissong attempts to elude pressure from Dayton’s Eric Jimenez (53) in the second half on Friday night. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

With Dayton holding a 22-13 lead and four minutes left on the clock, Brooks picked off a deflected Colton Hissong pass to stop one Bellevue drive. Two minutes later, Landyn Hopper intercepted a Hissong pass to ice the win and secure the Paddle traveling trophy.

Brooks received plenty of help from his teammates on Friday night. After Bellevue fought back and pulled to within 14-13 on a short scoring run by Sean Bucchi, Dayton fullback Trey Matthews bulldozed his way for a 1-yard touchdown with 4:59 remaining. He added a two-point conversion on the ground to extend his team’s advantage to 22-13.

Matthews, a muscular senior who also plays linebacker, is a converted offensive lineman. He rushed for 74 yards on 16 bruising carries Friday night.

“Trey is a tank,” Herbst said, noting the Dayton coaching staff moved Matthews from guard to fullback last year after seeing he was the biggest player in the weight room. “A lineman’s dream. We moved him to fullback to fit the type of offense we run. He’s a huge credit to our team and what we do.”

Dayton finished with 272 total yards and held Bellevue to 148 yards. Hissong accounted for most of the offense for the Tigers (0-5) with 54 yards on the ground and 29 in the air. Dayton also held a 17-10 edge in first downs.

Bellevue still owns a 98-45-3 lead in the all-time series with Dayton. In 2007, the game became known as the “Battle for the Paddle” in reference to the two cities’ location on the Ohio River.

Dayton won the state championship in 1966, but that Greendevil squad lost early in the regular season. Herbst, who played football at Dayton in the late 1980s, said he could not find any Greendevil team that ever began a season 5-0.

“I cannot find anything anywhere,” he said. “My senior year in 1989 was the first winning season for Dayton in 20 years. I can’t find any Dayton team that ever started 5-0, even the state championship year.”

Dayton plays host to Newport Central Catholic next Friday night at 7 p.m. in a district showdown.

Bellevue players celebrate a touchdown in the third quarter on Friday. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

Dayton players celebrate after winning the Battle for the Paddle against Bellevue by a 22-13 score on Friday night. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

Injured Dayton star Jordan Marksberry holds the Paddle following the Greendevils’ 22-13 victory over Bellevue on Friday. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

Dayton players hold the traveling trophy for winning the Battle for the Paddle against Bellevue with a 22-13 triumph on Friday night. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

Don Owen is sports editor of the Northern Kentucky Tribune. Contact him at don@nkytrib.com and follow him on Twitter at @dontribunesport.

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