MARTINS FERRY - As Buckeye 8 play begins next week, the Martins Ferry Purple Riders are starting to hit their stride on both sides of the ball and they're believing in themselves.
And the latter part of that has head coach Dave Bruney both excited and proud, especially following Friday night's cherished 28-21 physical victory against a talented Linsly squad before a good turnout on Alumni Night at the Dave Bruney Football Complex.
"I just didn't know if we really believed in ourselves," Bruney said. "We'd scrimmaged pretty well, but I think after our Shadyside scrimmage some of our kids were doubting how good they could be, but we felt all along they could be pretty good. That's a good Linsly team we just played."
The Purple Riders (3-0) thought they'd find themselves in a physical battle with the Cadets and it was just that for 48 minutes.
"Linsly was physical, big, well-coached and smart," Bruney said. "We did what we needed to do in a lot of areas."
The Purple Riders found themselves down 7-0 with 4:50 to go in the first quarter when senior quarterback Jameson Murray hooked up with sophomore Isaiah Harvin on a 71-yard touchdown pass. Zak Kriechbaum's PAT was perfect.
MARTINS?FERRY’S Marcus Sutton follows the blocking of Luke Straub (53) and Bryce Coleman (26)?into the end zone for a touchdown during the first half of Friday’s game against Linsly. The Purple Riders won, 28-21.
That was evidently the wake-up call that the Purple Riders needed because they seized control for the remainder of the first half.
"The momentum definitely felt like it was on the (Ferry) sideline," Linsly head coach B.J. Depew said.
Ferry got on the scoreboard with 26 seconds left in the first quarter when senior quarterback Eric Flowers, who played well in all facets of the game, found speedy junior Jack Fitch for a 49-yard touchdown. The PAT was off the mark and Linsly's lead was one.
The Riders' defense set up the offense after talented senior Bryan Styles picked off a Murray pass, putting Ferry in business on the Cadets' 44.
From there, Ferry needed just eight plays before senior tailback Marcus Sutton plunged in from two yards out. The run for two came up short and it was 12-7.
"We had shut them down and we blew a coverage for their first score, so give them credit for making us pay," Bruney said. "This team is just resilient and plays the game as it unfolds. They don't seem to let too much bother them because we've had some ups and downs in all three games."
Ferry made it a 20-7 reading with 4:17 to go in the half when Flowers found Styles up the right sideline for a 69-yard touchdown. Sutton ran in the 2-point conversion, making it 20-7.
Linsly began to climb back into the game when it pounced on a loose ball after the Riders muffed a punt. Chimechi Oparanozie ran into the end zone from two yards out on the ensuing play after the fumble and the PAT made it 20-14 with 5:09 to go in the third.
The Cadets' momentum was short-lived, however. After Linsly's defense held on a fourth down, the Cadets went three-and-out and the Riders made them pay this team.
"Our defense got a few critical stops and gave us a chance several times, but we missed some opportunities on offense," Depew said. "We got a break on the punt return, but we knew this was going to be a very physical game and it didn't disappoint."
An eight-play drive was capped by Styles. Running out of the 'Wildcat' he made had a nifty run down the right sideline, dodging would-be tacklers and making sure to stay in bounds en route to the end zone. He then caught the 2-point conversion pass from Flowers for a 28-14 reading.
"I was really proud of how we answered after they scored their second touchdown," Bruney said. "We kind of gave them the momentum on the punt. I thought our defense was exceptional tonight."
Linsly went right back down the field in eight plays before Harvin caught another touchdown from Murray. This one covered 17 yards.
However, Ferry made sure there'd be no further rally by accumulating four first downs to successfully run out the clock.
"Give Martins Ferry a ton of credit because they're a good, physical team," Depew said.
The Purple's offensive line, which is comprised of Jonathan Bodkin, Luke Straub, Nick Bain, Brian Sadosky and Cody Beavers, was impressive. It paved the way for the Riders to gain 386 yards of total offense, including 180 through the air.
Flowers had one of his best games as the starting quarterback. He ran for a team-high 88 yards on 16 carries and completed 10-of-14 passes.
"I thought our offensive line and our quarterback played exceptional," Bruney said. "We ran the ball well and threw the ball well. We've got a number of options in the backfield and all of them did a terrific job again tonight."
Styles had 114 yards of total offense, including 45 on the ground.
Linsly finished with 263 yards of total offense. Murray passed for 161 yards and Oparanozie managed 80 yards on 18 carries.
Martins Ferry hosts St. Clairsville on Friday, while Linsly meets city-rival Wheeling Central a week from tonight at Wheeling Island Stadium.