Many teams like to open the season against a cupcake.
Such was not the case for Martins Ferry Friday night.
The Purple Riders welcomed a physical and playoff-tested Heath squad in a mutual lidlifter. The Bulldogs were far from a soft touch as they extended Coach Dave Bruney's well-drilled charges deep into the fourth quarter, before the hosts exited with a 23-6 triumph.
MARTINS FERRY quarterback Jonathan Carlier runs for a long gain as several Heath players give chase during Friday’s season opener at Purple Rider Stadium.
Heath went 10-2 last fall, losing to eventual Division IV state champion Bishop Hartley in Week 12, 39-26. The Bulldogs were driving for the go ahead score late in that contest only to lose a fumble. Heath also advanced to the second round of the playoffs in 2009.
"We knew Heath was a quality team. They have been quite successful the past few years," Bruney noted. "Heath played hard and had a lot of weapons. It was a heck-of-a high school football game."
For Martins Ferry, the recipe for success doesn't change.
The Purple Riders are going to beat you by playing suffocating defense combined with a crunching ground game. The hosts delivered both in huge helpings against the scrappy Bulldogs.
The Purple Riders rode the one-two rushing punch of senior standouts Tyrel Simmons and Donte Williams. They combined for 243 infantry stripes and all three Purple six-pointers.
The long-striding Simmons did yeoman's duty with 35 carries for 131 yards and a 9-yard scoring jaunt. Williams, a quick-footed scatback, turned his 12 totes into 112 yards and two TDs.
Their productive nights were fueled by the talented and tough-minded Ferry offensive line which featured Sean McGee, Zach Coole, Michael Minder, Robert Vargo and Elliot Albert.
"It's nice to win the opener against a quality team. Heath tested our character," Bruney said. "Our defense had to step up and make some big plays and they did. We had a lot of players getting their first taste of varsity action and they responded well."
Heath coach Mark Collier had much praise for his vanquishers.
"Martins Ferry is a class program with class coaches. They make you pay when you make mistakes," Collier said. "They made the plays when they needed to and we did not. A sequence of five plays sealed our fate.
"But I was proud of our guys. We had to make some adjustments after we lost our quarterback but we still had a shot in the fourth quarter," he continued. "Ferry is going to win a lot of football games and I feel we handled ourselves quite well against them."
Ferry drew first blood courtesy of a Heath miscue.
The Bulldogs were forced to punt on their initial possession. However, the snap went over the punter's head and he opted to kick it off the turf out of the end zone for a safety and a quick 2-0 Purple edge.
The Riders set up shop at the Heath 35 following the ensuing kickoff. The hosts drove inside the Bulldogs' 25 before a Donyelle Simpson interception thwarted the drive.
Ferry was back in business on the next play as Simmons intercepted a Heath pass, giving the Riders the ball at their own 43. Ferry proceeded to stage a 12-play drive capped by Williams' 1-yard TD with 20 seconds in the opening quarter. Rich Padyjasek's bazooka leg made it a 9-0 count.
Heath cut it to a 9-6 deficit thanks to a 42-yard scoring run by Simpson with 8:16 left in the opening half.
The third quarter was void of scoring, setting the stage for a decisive final frame.
After Heath stopped Ferry on a fourth-and-one near midfield, the Bulldogs proceeded to march deep into Purple territory. However, a potential game-tying field goal was wide left from 31 yards out.
Bruney's bunch made the most of the miss by embarking on a game-clinching 80-yard, 11-play scoring march. The drive was kept alive by a key 13-yard third down aerial pickup from Jonathan Carlier to Cody Schau from the 17-yard line.
Williams climaxed the drive with a 15-yard run on a perfectly executed counter with four minutes to play. Padyjasek's boot made it 16-6.
The winners capped the scoring on a nine-yard Simmons' burst with 1:54 showing. Padyjasek's extra point made it a 23-6 final.
Defensive coordinator Bill Bruney receive sparkling efforts from a number of his Purple performers, none more so than relentless end Jeff Oberdick. He was joined wreaking havoc by Logan Barnes, Trent Neavin, Sean McGee and Simmons.
"Our defense was excellent and we showed we can run the ball," Bruney said. "We need to utilize our passing game more. But we came out of the game healthy, so it was a nice start to the season."