A game many area football fans have been pointing at for a long time is almost upon us.
The defacto Buckeye 8 title game will be staged Friday evening at Purple Rider Stadium in Martins Ferry when the 6-2 Purple Riders host 8-0 St. Clairsville.
Along with the league championship, major points are on the line in the chase for one of the eight playoff spot in Division IV, Region 15 as well as a big boost in the OVAC Standings for both clubs.
While all of that - along with the annual bragging rights among rivals - is on the line, St. Clairsville head coach Brett McLean is doing his best to keep things in perspective.
"We have lofty goals," McLean said. "This is a single game in the season and regardless of what happens, we can't get too high or too low. If we win, great, but if we lose, we can't flush the entire (season) down the drain. It is what it is."
The Red Devils would clinch the Buckeye 8 title with a victory. It would give them a 2-game cushion on Martins Ferry and they own the tiebreaker over Indian Creek by their head-to-head victory. A Martins Ferry victory would cause a logjam at the top and the title wouldn't be decided until Week 10.
The Purple Riders find themselves in seventh in the recent Region 15 computer poll, but they control their own destiny as far as the postseason goes. St. Clairsville, meanwhile, has already wrapped up a trip to the playoffs, but a home game is still one of the goals for the Red Devils.
One of the quirks of the Buckeye 8 schedule has the game being played in Martins Ferry for the second consecutive season.
"Everyone had to have equal home and away games on their schedule," McLean said. "If this hadn't happened this way, we would have had one or two away games. Obviously, going to Martins Ferry, and winning, has been a huge hurdle for us. We've not fared well down there over a 10-year period."
Martins Ferry would have had only four home games for the season if the Red Devils didn't come to the riverside for the second straight season.
"St. Clairsville was gracious enough to accommodate us and come here two years in a row," Ferry head coach Dave Bruney said.
Regardless of where it's played, the game comes down to the players and both teams have plenty of good ones.
"St. Clairsville has certainly been the class of the area up to this point in the season," said Bruney. "They're blessed with a lot of kids who can run and catch and make you defend the entire field."
The Red Devils' offense has scored less than 40 points just twice this season, including last week's 26-22 come-from-behind victory at Buckeye Local.
Junior quarterback Matt Kinnick leads the attack. He's completed 88-of-153 passes for 1,796 yards and 20 touchdowns. He's been able to spread the ball around to a plethora of people.
Junior speedster Jerrid Marhefka leads the way with 22 receptions for 577 yards and eight touchdowns. Sophomore blazer Jaylon Brown, who is expected to return to the lineup after missing the Buckeye game with an injury, has made 17 receptions. He's also the Devils' leading rusher with 769 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Junior Dan Monteroso is rounding back into form after missing the first three games. He's made 11 catches. Ben Evick, Michael Ferns and Chase Garan have also been solid contributors in the passing game.
While the Red Devils' offense makes headlines throwing the ball, they're also a sound running squad. Brown's production is complemented by Kinnick, who's gained 384 yards on 79 carries. Evick has ran for 252 yards. Luke Smith, Greg Parker and Ferns have also shined when called upon.
"You have to try to keep them from getting too many home runs on you," Bruney said. "We need to play well on defense and in special teams. We certainly have to stop the run first and then tackle the pass."
Ferry's defense - under the direction of coordinator Bill Bruney - has been staunch. Tyrel Simmons, Jonathan Carlier, Trent Neavin and Sean McGee lead the defensive unit.
"Bill Bruney has been doing a great job for years with their defense," McLean noted. "They've not given up too many points, too often. They play really sticky defense in the red zone."
The Riders' offense has been solid all season at limiting opposing team's possessions by controlling the clock.
"We'd certainly like to shorten the game on offense if we can," Bruney said. "Our offensive line will be key. They've done an extraordinary job all season. And our backs have ran well."
The Purple Riders are blessed with two running backs who've ran for more than 700 yards. Senior C.J. Williams has lugged the leather 116 times for 788 yards and 12 touchdowns, while Simmons has added 773 yards and 10 touchdowns.
"They do what they believe in (offensively) and we do what we believe in," McLean said. "They've always had a nice stable of backs. Plus, they've got two or three styles of backs. It's a nice luxury when you can put three or four different kids into the same position and be successful."
The Riders' third option out of the backfield is Neavin, who's been an impressive lead blocker all season.
The Purple passing game has been a work in progress. Carlier, the senior quarterback, has been steady. He's only been called upon to throw 74 times, completing 42 of those for 742 yards and six touchdowns.
The Riders' top receiver is Cody Schau, who has made 20 receptions for 344 yards and three touchdowns.
The St. Clairsville defense has received strong play from Ferns, Smith, Jay Gossett, Corey Ernest, Cole Stephen, Marhefka, Brown and Evick.
"They've played well defensively," Bruney said. "I think a big part of that has been their offense because they've been able to get teams down so quickly and they become one dimensional since they have to try to get back in the game. I don't want to take anything away from their defense because I do think they've played well."
Both teams have been solid in special teams as well. Ferry senior Richie Padyjasek has been one of the steadiest performers as has St. C. sophomore Zach Musilli.
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