Let the real fun begin.
The brackets are set, the films have been exchanged and preparations for the OHSAA State Football Tournament get under way today.
After a grueling 10-week season, only 192 teams are returning to the practice field this afternoon as the quest for the coveted OHSAA state championship trophy gets under way this weekend.
The road to Stark County begins Friday for Division II, III and V and the remaining three divisions will play on Saturdays throughout the tournament. The state championship games are once again split between Massillon's Paul Brown Tiger Stadium and Canton's Fawcett Stadium.
The Ohio Valley Athletic Conference is once again well-represented in the tournament field with no fewer than eight members earning a berth in the field, which was formally announced Sunday afternoon.
Locally, five schools finished in the top eight of their respective regions. Those include: Monroe Central (Division V); St. Clairsville, Martins Ferry (Division IV); Shadyside, Beallsville (Division VI).
Throw in Steubenville, Indian Creek and Wellsville and you've got a solid field of representatives.
Maybe more impressive than just qualifying, of those eight, five finished inside the top four of their region and will be hosting a playoff game, which is always a goal.
The host sites all had to trek to Columbus today for a meeting and advance ticket sales will begin later this week. As we get those, we'll publish them in our sports brief section.
Here's a quick look at the local matchups:
Monroe Central, which had thought it would take on Columbiana in a re-match, will instead host Louisville St. Thomas Aquinas, which is located in the Canton area. The Seminoles finished 9-1, while the Knights, who began the season 0-3, closed with a flurry and finished 6-4. Aquinas plays a schedule with predominately Division II and III schools.
Belmont County will be rocking with football games Saturday evening as three will take place within some 15 miles of each other.
Shadyside will host Wellsville. Shadyside is 7-3 and earned the #2 seed, while Wellsville snuck into the tournament with a 5-5 mark.
St. Clairsville rebounded from a week nine loss to finish 9-1 and earn the top seed against a Chesapeake club, which is facing better than a four-hour trip to the Ohio Valley Saturday. The Panthers finished 7-3, but are coming into the playoffs off a 20-15 loss to Coal Grove Dawson Bryant.
Martins Ferry leaped over Coshocton for the fourth seed by virtue of beating Bellaire Saturday. The Purple Riders finished 8-2 and will take on a formidable Redskins' club, which posted a 8-2 record. Coshocton's losses came in overtime to Division II playoff club New Philadelphia and defending Division IV state champion Columbus Bishop Hartley.
Beallsville, unfortunately, will be on the road Saturday. The Blue Devils will make a lengthy trip to Portsmouth to meet Sciotoville Community School. The Blue Devils finished 8-2, while the Tartans were 7-3.
The Times Leader's in-depth playoff preview will publish in Thursday's edition.
Monroe Central head coach Jay Circosta has joined some elite company. The only football coach the Seminoles have ever had was presented his 300th career victory Friday at Buckeye Trail.
Circosta is an institution in Monroe County. The man has gotten it done for 40 years with basically the same approach and philosophy. He's a great representative of Monroe Central and all of Woodsfield.
Circosta, who shows no signs of letting up, is a players' coach, who has always had the ability to get the most of out of his players. There have been very few lean years in Woodsfield and Circosta is the biggest reason for that.
Congratulations, Coach Circosta. DESERVING HONOR
Last Friday, Martins Ferry re-named its football stadium as the "Dave Bruney Football Complex."
Major kudos should go out to Superintendent Dirk Fitch, Principal Jeff Oberdick, Athletic Director Kim Appolloni and the Martins Ferry Board of Education for making the decision to do this.
When you think of Martins Ferry football, the name Bruney resonates. Dave Bruney has been the face of Riders' football for 33 years as the head coach, but his affiliation with the Purple Riders go well before that. All told, he's been associated with the Ferry football program for 40 years, counting his playing days and his tenure as an assistant coach.
The man absolutely bleeds purple. He loves his community, his alma mater and his job moreso than maybe anyone I've ever come across in this business.
Bruney - like so many others in the coaching fraternity or in any business that deals in the public eye - has his critics. The most impressive thing about Bruney, to me, is he doesn't care one bit. He's not going to change his approach to coaching, teaching or his philosophies because you don't like it. He's done it his way to a tune of 236 victories and turned Ferry into one of the state's most respected football programs.
While Bruney might seem as if he's got a gruff exterior, he's a great guy. He's never done anything to bring any negative attention to himself, his school, his program or his community. He's a great family man, who always points out how much his wife, Cheryl, has meant to him and his coaching career. They've raised three highly successful children, Zach, Trevor and Ashley.
I firmly believe Bruney has several more years of coaching in him. He still does it with great passion and seems to love coming to work every day. He's a member of the Ohio High School Hall of Fame and will be a sure-bet for the OVAC Hall of Fame when his career closes, but to have a stadium named after you is the ultimate prize in respect.
Congratulations, Coach Dave!
1. Steubenville - Big Red completed yet another 10-0 season, wrapped up the top seed in the Division III, Region 11 tournament and clinched their 10th OVAC title in the process. It's just the same story every week for Steubenville. It doesn't beat itself and it plays outstanding defense. William Houst is a beast along the defensive line for the Big Red.
2. Indian Creek - The Redskins are definitely playing their best football of the year. Unfortunately, they're running into a buzzsaw Friday night at Harding Stadium. Indian Creek's defense has been solid and it came up big against Edison. The Redskins' offense has some big-play threats, but the line will have to come up big against Steubenville this week if the Redskins are to pull what could be deemed as one of the biggest shockers in the history of the OHSAA postseason.
3. Cambridge - The Bobcats are a really good team that finished the season at 8-2. Through no fault of its own, Cambridge will be preparing for basketball season Friday. Cambridge's opponents just didn't win enough games to support them in second-level points. Cambridge took out some frustration against arch-rival Meadowbrook Friday night in Byesville, hanging 72 on the board. However, Cambridge head coach Rick Goodrich deserves a pass. He had his first unit out of the game early and was basically doing everything he could not to score from all accounts I've rendered. 4. Martins Ferry - The Purple Riders have done it the same way basically all season. They used a vaunted running game with Tyrel Simmons and C.J. Williams along with a fierce defense to drill Bellaire, 37-0, Saturday afternoon. Along with the postseason, Ferry earned itself the OVAC Class 3A championship as well as a piece of the Buckeye 8 title.
5. St. Clairsville - The Red Devils got back to their winning ways last week, throttling overmatched Union Local. The Red Devils locked up the top seed in the Division IV, Region 15 tournament and will host Chesapeake. St. C. unleashed talented sophomore Michael Ferns and junior Dan Monteroso, who came up big with two punt returns for touchdowns before St. C. had even taken an offensive snap.
1. Linsly - The Cadets just continue to steamroll teams and take care of business. It seems like every week it's someone new for Coach B.J. Depew's team. Junior Chinelo Oparanozie ran for 147 yards in a victory against Brashear last Saturday. The Cadets also get it done through the air as Alex Stephens threw two more touchdowns. While the offense gets much of the hype, the Cadets' defense has also been lockdown this season. One BIG game still remains as Linsly meets the #2 team in this poll Friday night for the OVAC title.
2. Wheeling Central - The Knights are taking absolutely no prisoners. Central is on the cusp of another pefect season and wrapping up the top seed in the West Virginia Class A playoffs. Central quarterback Parker Henry has blossomed into one of the area's finest players. Central's defense has been stout and the offense can strike from anywhere behind Henry and talented tailback Gino Bianconi.
3. Monroe Central - The Seminoles are one of the hottest teams right now along with aforementioned Indian Creek. Monroe Central has reeled off nine straight wins and will head into the postseason against Louisville St. Thomas Aquinas on Friday night in Woodsfield. The Seminoles get it done with a strong mix of run and pass by senior quarterback Tyler Kinchen.
4. Shadyside - The Tigers are another hot team, having won six of their final seven games to grab the two seed in the Division VI, Region 21 tournament where they will tangle with fellow OVAC member Wellsville. Shadyside's defense has been sound all season, but the offense has grown by leaps and bounds. Junior quarterback Chase Kinemond's passing numbers won't wow you, but he's quietly put together a strong campaign and it's quite obvious that he and classmate Cody Hudson are on the same page. The two hooked up three times for touchdowns last Friday against Barnesville.
5. Beallsville - The Blue Devils are back in the poll. They're another team that is improving each week and hasn't come close to hitting its ceiling. Beallsville got it done last Friday against St. John Central with a strong running game. Junior quarterback Teryn Jarrett - who's had a strong season - didn't have to attempt a pass. Beallsville's offense is strong and its defense is attacking. Beallsville definitely has the makings of a club that can make some noise in the Region 23 tournament. Unfortunately, the OHSAA computers don't like the Blue Devils that well as they settled with the fifth seed.
Staskey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org