SPARKY will bleed Purple once again.
Behind a high-powered ground attack and a swarming defense, Martins Ferry won the 105th meeting with Bellaire by a 28-0 count before a standing-room-only crowd at Purple Rider Stadium.
With the victory, the Purple Riders (8-2) not only retained the SPARKY Trophy for the fourth straight year, but they also punched their ticket to the Division IV playoffs, possibly earning a home contest on the turf.
Martins Ferry SPARKY Parade
"I think this win belongs to our seniors and our offensive line," a jubilant Martins Ferry head coach Dave Bruney said. "We weren't real happy with the way we performed the last couple of weeks, but a lot of that had to do with guys being nicked up.
"We're still nicked up and we had a lot of guys step up today and play pretty well," the veteran head coach continued. "We expected to play one of our better games, and I think we did that."
With the offensive line dominating the smaller Big Reds (6-4), the Purple Riders rushed for 273 yards and all four touchdowns on an eye-popping 58 carries. Senior stalwart Casey Bain once again led the way with 25 totes for 139 yards and a trio of six-pointers. Junior Tyrel Simmons lugged the leather 21 times for 105 stripes and the other TD.
"Casey's been a little nicked up and Tyrel's been a lot nicked up," Bruney noted of his two standouts. "When those two are healthy, they are a good combo. They are a good complement to each other."
Bain, who now has 1,221 yards and 15 touchdowns on the season, picked up 111 of his yards in the first half.
The Purple Riders took the opening kickoff, but faced a 3-and-16 from their 30. Senior quarterback Dorsey Moore rolled right and lofted a strike to Anthony Phillips for a 32-yard pickup that moved the sticks.
After that, it was all Bain. The 6-foot, 180-pounder carried four consecutive times, the final being an 11-yard scamper over the right side of his line in which he found the end zone. Richie Padyjasek was perfect on the first of his four PAT kicks and the hosts led 7-0 at the 8:41 mark.
Bellaire picked up a pair of first downs before its initial drive stalled and Chuckie Myers was forced into punt formation. The snap was a little high and Myers couldn't get a handle on it as Martins Ferry's Bobby Dayton raced in and covered the loose pigskin at the Big Reds' 13.
On the next play, Bain once again went off the right side behind the blocks of Zac Coole and Sean McGee and reached paydirt standing up. Padyjasek made it 14-0 at the 5:55 mark.
"You look at the plays, where we were at," Bellaire head coach Jose Davis lamented. "We had them backed up with a third-and-16 and give up deep corner route. Football is a game of momentum and we came out those first two plays ready to play.
"We also had a free safety playing the position for the first time," Davis continued. "I've told people all season that we aren't very deep. We were missing two guys today, and we can't afford to miss anyone. The injury bug bit us today.
"They (Martins Ferry) were a very physical football team today," Davis said of the Purple Riders' ground game. "That's what it was. Our defense played hard, but when you turn the ball over five times there's no chance. None whatsoever."
Devin Ward intercepted Moore late in the first quarter, returning the ball 30 yards to the Purple Riders' 31. A pass interference penalty on Bain on fourth-and-7 gave the Big Reds new life. However, two plays later, Bain atoned for his prior mistake by picking off a Rocchio pass one yard deep in the right corner of the end zone.
Martins Ferry threatened late in the half, but the drive fizzled out and Padyjasek's 24-yard field goal sailed wide left of the uprights.
The second half didn't start the way Davis and his staff drew it up at the half as the Big Reds fumbled on the first play and McGee fell on it at the Bellaire 28.
Four plays later - all on the ground - Bain ran behind Cody Engleman and Jack Beavers for his third TD, this one from one yard out. The point after made it 21-0 with 10:42 on the clock.
Following a Bellaire punt, the Big Reds' defense came up big with a stop on fourth-and-5 deep in Bellaire territory. However, on the very next play, the Big Reds coughed the ball up again as Martins Ferry's Tyler Flores pounced on it at the 28.
Simmons capped the 8-play, 28-yard march with a 3-yard plunge over the left side of the line. He followed fullback Mike Rose's crunching block to reach the promised land for a 28-0 advantage.
"Michael Rose is a really fine football player," Bruney praised. "He blocks. He runs the ball. He catches the ball. He plays great on defense."
While Martins Ferry was piling up the yardage, Bellaire couldn't generate any offensive movement at all. At least any positive as the Big Reds finished with 22 carries for minus 48 yards. Included in that total was 10 sacks of Rocchio that resulted in negative 42 stripes.
Many of those sacks came from the pressure of Dayton and Jeffrey Oberdick. McGee and Engleman were also effective, as was Jonathan Carlier.
"We're blessed with some kids that can rush the quarterback," Bruney offered. "Bobby Dayton one and Jeffrey Oberdick two. Sean McGee and Jonathan were able to get to him (Rocchio) on a couple of blitzes."
Rocchio, who finished the season with 2,311 yards and 27 touchdowns in his first season as the field general, completed 12-of-21 passes for 140 yards and the one pick. Ward snagged seven aerials for 97 stripes that pushed his senior season yardage total to 1,075.
Moore was 7-of-10 for 81 stripes. Rose landed three receptions for 34 yards.
North can be reached at email@example.com