A lot of people were anxiously awaiting St. Clairsville's game against Martins Ferry for a real litmus test of just how good these Red Devils are.
The Red Devils passed with flying colors.
Snapping a four-game losing streak to the Purple Riders, Coach Brett McLean's Red Devils put themselves in position to capture their first 10-0 season since 2007 next week at Union Local by virtue of a convincing 47-13 win.
ST. CLAIRSVILLE’S Jaylon Brown crosses the goal line with his first of five touchdowns Friday night against Martins Ferry. Brown ran for 155 yards and caught two passes for 46 yards as the Devils defeated the Riders, 47-13. Additional images may be found at cu.timesleaderonline.com
"I am really proud of this senior group," said McLean moments after watching the large group take their final regular season walk up and down the field. "This win feels great, but like I said earlier in the week, I won't look in the rear view mirror. We came out and had to play this group for ourselves and this season, so we're excited to have gotten it done tonight."
The victory clinches the Buckeye 8 title and further pushes the Red Devils toward wrapping up the top seed in the upcoming Division IV, Region 15 tournament and also the school's first OVAC football title since 1990.
"This team is desperate to finish this thing off next week with an undefeated regular season," McLean said. "They're dying for it. We want to get sound practices this week, so we can hopefully go out and accomplish another goal that this group set for itself."
The loss, meanwhile, drops the Purple Riders to 5-4 on the season and places them firmly on the Region 15 bubble for the postseason. They'll meet Bellaire in their annual Week 10 encounter at home next Friday.
"We need to continue to stress to our kids that whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger," said Purple Riders' head coach Dave Bruney. "Whatever it is, it is. If we can get a win next week and make it, it's great for the younger kids and a fitting end for our seniors because they've been dealt some pretty tough blows this season."
The Riders - like basically every other team against St. C. - wanted to shorten the game as best they could by controlling the clock, getting first downs and keeping the Devils' offense on the sideline.
For the most part, it worked, but the Red Devils have the inate ability to score points in bunches without running many plays.
"We've kind of lived on that all year," McLean said. "We've driven the ball when we've needed to also, but it can get frustrating when you're not getting as many offensive plays. Our defense adjusted in the second half."
However, the Red Devils built a 14-0 lead in the first eight minutes and both scores came on big plays. Two plays after St. C. converted a fourth down, senior quarterback Matt Kinnick found Boston College-bound senior Dan Monteroso on a 21-yard strike. Zach Musilli was true on the PAT.
After forcing a Ferry punt, Kinnick found senior speedster Jerrid Marhefka for a 52-yard catch and run. Musilli was again perfect on the extra point.
"They've (scored quickly) against everyone," Bruney said. "They're able to do a lot of different things because they can get mismatches in so many places."
Staying within itself, the Riders stuck with their game plan. They went on an 8-play drive that covered 52 yards.
Junior quarterback Eric Flowers did the brunt of the damage on straight keeper plays. He ran for gains of 17, 19 and 16 before capping the march from 2 yards out. Arjay Burress booted the extra point to slice the Devils' lead in half.
St. Clairsville made it 20-7 two possession later. Junior speedster Jaylon Brown, who was hemmed up pretty well in the first half, scored his first touchdown of the night from 5 yards out.
The Riders went to work again and ran 10 consecutive running plays to move to the 7-yard line. However, a holding penalty forced the Riders into a passing situation and Marhefka picked off a Flowers' aerial, thwarting the drive.
"I think we ran 36 or 37 plays in the first half and they had 20," Bruney pointed out. "But, they had 20 points and we had seven."
In the second half, the Devils got Brown going and did so in a big way. He scored all four of St. C.'s touchdowns in the second half.
The first came on a 42-yard pass from Kinnick over the middle. Musilli added the PAT.
Continuing to stick with their game plan, the Riders found paydirt once again when Flowers plunged in from 6 yards out, which capped an 11-play drive.
It was all Brown from that point on forward. He scored on runs of 34, 43 and 16 yards to blow the game open en route to finishing with 155 yards on 17 carries.
"It was a little bit of a chess game because we were trying to take what (Ferry) was giving us in the first half," McLean said. "We had all kinds of opportunities through the air. We connected on some, but didn't connect on a few. The passing game helped support the running game tonight and when they adjusted it really allowed Jaylon to have some space."
Kinnick threw for an impressive 237 yards. Monteroso caught 5 balls for 87 yards and Marfheka made 2 catches for 104 stripes.
The Riders ran for 214 yards. Flowers carried 21 for 117. Brian Styles added 42 yards on the ground. The Ferry running game got a lift with the return of punishing senior fullback Trent Neavin, who had missed the first eight games with injury.