ZANESVILLE - Big players make big plays.
St. Clairsville (13-0) had several of those players Friday night in its 37-29 Division IV, Region 15 championship game victory here at John Sulsberger Memorial Stadium over Johnstown-Monroe.
Jerrid Marhefka made his share of big plays. So did Derek Shunk, and so did Jay Gossett.
ST. CLAIRSVILLE junior Jaylon Brown busts through a pair of Johnstown-Monroe tacklers during Friday’s Division IV, Region 15 semifinal. Brown finished with 180 yards of total offense.
Marhefka's two plays stood out over others as both resulted in touchdowns.
First, with the Red Devils clinging to a 17-7 lead after the Johnnies had finally dented the scoreboard in the second quarter, Marhefka went high into the air to make a superb one-handed grab of a Matt Kinnick toss that resulted in a 21-yard touchdown.
"Matt threw it up and gave me a chance," the two-way senior standout allowed. "I just pulled it down. It was a go pattern and he just let me do my thing."
Fortunately for the Red Devils and the huge crowd of supporters who made the 90-minute trek west on I-70, Marhefka wasn't done.
With the Belmont Countians holding a 24-21 edge in the fourth quarter after another Johnstown-Monroe touchdown, Kinnick and Marhefka hooked up again.
This time the duo clicked on a 66-yard strike, but according to Marhefka, it was more of a team touchdown than just his.
"It was just a slant, but Matt saw the linebacker blitz and the blocking downfield was super. I wouldn't have scored if it hadn't been for Dan's (Monteroso) blocking downfield."
Marhefka finished with five catches for 112 stripes.
FACING ADVERSITY: The Red Devils had to deal with adversity all week as starting center Cole Stephen was ejected from last week's win over Piketon for allegedly throwing a punch.
Due to OHSAA regulations, an ejected player must sit out the following week's contest.
Senior Derek Shunk was thrust into the limelight in Stephen's absence, but he responded with a yeoman's effort, something that didn't surprise head coach Brett McLean at all.
"He handled himself very well," McLean said of Shunk. "He's a senior and a multi-year letterman and starter. We didn't expect anything less.
"We had a guy down and he filled in admirably," McLean continued. "He did a terrific job, but I can't wait to get No. 55 back in the lineup because he's a great kid.
"These kids really took it upon themselves to make sure we got this win so we can get old No. 55 back with us next week."
Shunk downplayed his effort, saying, "It was a team effort. There are no I's on this team."
BEST FOR LAST: Gossett was in the Johnnies backfield more than their own players, or at least it seemed that way.
He charted numerous defensive superlatives, including more than one quarterback sack and a handful of hurries.
A touchdown, of course.
It came just a few minutes after Marhefka's long-distance score and upped the count to 37-21.
Kinnick dropped the snap from center, but quickly recovered. He picked the pigskin off the turf and shot-putted the ball to Gossett, who had to go high into the air before plucking the ball out of the chill-filled air as he crashed to the turf.
"Matt put it up there and I went and got it," Gossett said.
JUST A COINCIDENCE: The Johnstown-Monroe fight song is identical to the University of Wisconsin's. St. Clairsville's fight song is the same as Ohio State's.
Those two Big Ten teams meet today in Madison.
SPEAKING OF BANDS: The Johnnies marched out a strong 191-member band. Due to the large size of the musical ensemble, it helped fill some of the empty seats on the Johnstown-Monroe side of the field.
St. Clairsville's marching finest, although not as large, held its own when it came time to play.
ANOTHER MILESTONE: Monteroso, the Boston College-bound wideout/defensive back, surpassed the 1,000-yard receiving mark last night with his three snags for 77 yards. He now has 1,076 receiving yards this season.
UP NEXT: The Red Devils will be entering unchartered water as far as football is concerned. The semifinal opponent is Creston Norwayne who just happens to be the defending Division IV state champion.
Two proposed sites have been tossed around via the social media, those being New Philadelphia's Woody Hayes Quaker Stadium and Paul Brown Tiger Stadium in Massillon. One site that the game won't be played at is Canton's Fawcett Stadium. That is where the Division IV state championship game is slated.
The site will be announced Sunday.
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