The annual meeting of Martins Ferry and St. Clairsville has grown into the game that many prep football junkies circle each season on the schedule.
Well, week nine has arrived and that means the Purple Riders and Red Devils are set to clash with plenty on the line when they meet Friday night at Red Devil Stadium.
The Purple Riders have had the Red Devils' number of late in the series. Ferry has won the past four meetings, including last year's game at Purple Rider Stadium, 33-28.
MARTINS?FERRY’S Marcus Sutton looks for a hole in last week’s game against Edison. He’s the Purple Riders’ leading rusher. He and Riders will visit St. Clairsville Friday night.
The last St. Clairsville victory came during its undefeated campaign of 2007 when the Devils prevailed by a 41-14 count.
Ironically, as the preparations continue for Ferry's first trip to the new turf at Red Devil Stadium, St. C. is sitting at 8-0 for the second straight season. Because of a quirk in the Buckeye 8 schedule, Martins Ferry hosted St. Clairsville two straight years.
"It's not like we've never won a game against Martins Ferry," St. C. head coach Brett McLean said. "We're focusing on the present and we're not looking in the rear-view mirror in terms of this season or further in the past. This has developed into one of the best rivalries we've had, and I know both teams will be up and play well regardless of the scenarios."
The Red Devils come into the game knowing they'll not only be a part of the playoff field in Division IV, Region 15, but they'll be at home for the first round. They're now focusing on locking up the top seed in the region, the OVAC 4A and Buckeye 8 title.
"Clinching a playoff spot already is a tribute to the schedule we've played," McLean said. "We've played some bigger schools and Dayton Jefferson has won five games. Maybe when I am old and have gray hair people will listen to me more. Reaching the playoffs is definitely one of our goals, but we have other goals out there and we need to continue to work and keep our edge."
The Riders are still in control of their own destiny in terms of the postseason party. Last week's stunning loss to Edison, when Ferry was guilty of seven turnovers, dropped the Riders to seventh in the latest OHSAA computer poll.
"We'd been very cognizant of protecting the ball, but we just didn't do a good job of it last week," Purple Riders' head coach Dave Bruney said. "When you have five turnovers in the first eight minutes, it certainly has you paddling up stream in a hurry. But, we've moved on and we just need to improve and try to be as fundamentally sound as we can be."
The Riders' defense will need to be on top of its game this week as it tries to slow down the high-powered Red Devils, who've got weaponry all over the field.
"I've been following football in this valley for a long time, and I can remember some really good St. Clairsville teams," Bruney said. "The 1969 team with Jeff Rice jumps out at me as does the 1978 team with Tim Spencer and Keith Brown. This team definitely can be considered as one of their better teams in school history."
St. Clairsville is led by senior quarterback Matt Kinnick. He's completed 69-of-110 passes for 1,447 yards and 19 touchdowns. He's only been picked off twice.
Junior speedster Jaylon Brown has had a fine season at tailback. He's ran for 1,055 yards and 19 touchdowns on just 103 carries. He's also caught eight balls for 226 yards and two scores.
On the perimeter, Kinnick has Boston College commit Dan Monteroso at his disposal. He's made 30 receptions for 636 yards and nine touchdowns. Senior speedster Jerrid Marhefka has caught 11 passes for 233 yards and three scores. Junior Michael Ferns is a threat as a runner at fullback or at tight end.
"We certainly know this is a going to be a challenge and we're approaching it as such this week," said Bruney.
The Riders' offense has also been highly productive with a strong collection of running back options leading the way.
Marcus Sutton leads the ground attack with 78 rushes for 477 yards and four touchdowns. Brandon Laughman has carried 66 times for 377 yards and seven touchdowns. Brian Styles has ran for 312 yards and three touchdowns.
Junior Eric Flowers has done an admirable job at quarterback after stepping in for the injured Tyler Strama. He's thrown for 936 yards on 74-of-117 for six touchdowns.
Senior playmaker Cody Schau leads the area in receiving with 49 catches for 768 yards and eight touchdowns. Styles has made 17 receptions and junior tight end Robert Vargo has caught 21 passes for 225 yards and a score.
"We expect to see Martins Ferry's best," McLean said. "This will be the best offensive and defensive lines we've faced all season. They come off the ball aggressively. I am always impressed with their running backs who are so physical when they run. Plus, their defense is stingy as usual. Bill (Bruney) does a great job of making minor adjustments, which allows their kids to play fast and with confidence."