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There’s been no game tape to watch, no scouting reports before kickoff.
But St. Bede coach John Bellino and Amboy-LaMoille head man Gary Jones both know what to expect from each other’s squads when the Bruins roll into the Harbor on Friday night to take on the Clippers.
They’re expecting a battle.
A battle that might have big playoff implications for the two perennial postseason contenders, which will be playing their first-ever Three Rivers Conference crossover contest after the conference’s expansion and re-alignment saw the Bruins placed in the TRC South and the Clippers in the North.
The two long-time area coaches have mutual respect for the programs each other has built.
“They’re a big, fast team, the traditional Amboy bill — tough hard-nosed football players,” Bellino said of the prototypical Jones squad at A-L. “It has been (a close game in recent years) and we’ve been playing them a little later in the year when our kids have gotten a little more confidence going.
“It’s too bad we haveto play them so early this year. We’re young so it’s going to be a good test for us,” added Bellino, who has a 165-152 record during his 33-year tenure at the Academy.
The Clippers traditional “run the ball first and ask questions later” mentality has opened up to a more diversified attack in recent years.
But that doesn’t mean Bellino won’t be expecting a heavy dose of power running from the team, which returns three starting offensive linemen in Emmitt Hicks, Garrett Liebing and Aaron Hubbell, who will all also play in the defensive trenches.
The trio of experienced linemen will look to protect new senior quarterback Canaan Ross and lead the way for senior featured backs Jason Bontz and James Jones, who both got carries last season.
“Gary likes his fullback and tailback and running game — and they’re awful big up front,” said Bellino, who added that the he thinks the Clippers will continue their recent ways of mixing things up on offense with play-action passing game, which will feature senior receivers Damon Quest and Jordan Ernst.
Jones, in his 20th year at Amboy with a 114-82 record, said that the Clippers’ offense will have its work cut out for it against a traditionally tough Academy defensive unit, led by senior All-NewsTribune middle linebacker Michael Bellino — the youngest son of coach Bellino — and senior nose tackle Michael Slingsby.
“I know the defense is going to be good. They’ve got Bellino back, and they’ve got their middle man (Slingsby) back, so they’ve got some good parts back. Those two were like a two-man wrecking crew last year,” Jones said.
The Bruins enter with a young offensive unit led by junior starting quarterback Jack Brady along with junior Justin Shaw and senior Sam Halm, who were both in the rushing mix last year.
They’ll also be young up front with Slingsby the lone returner at center.
John Bellino said this week’s heat wave has disrupted the Bruins’ workout schedule and made preparing a young team for a tough Week 1 debut even tougher.
Both teams will look to gauge their opponents early due to the lack of familiarity inherent in a new season under the Friday night lights.
“The first quarter is going to be kind of like the early rounds of a boxing match. We’re going to feel each other out and try to figure out what the other guy is going to do. Whatever happens, we’re going to have to make adjustments,” Jones said.
Chris Yucus can be reached at 220-6995 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsChris.
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