MORRISTOWN - Martins Ferry isn't a team that needs any help on the football field.
Union Local has been in a helpful mood since starting the season 3-0.
Those factors combined resulted in the Purple Riders' cruising to a 35-7 victory against the Jets, spoiling homecoming festivities.
T-L Photo/JOE LOVELL
MARTINS FERRY’S Bruce Burger looks for room to run as two Union Local defenders, including Eric Dunfee (9) close in. The Riders rolled, 35-7. Additional images may be found at cu.timesleaderonline.com
"I was just tickled to death with our kids and how they kept their poise," Purple Riders' head coach Dave Bruney said as his state-ranked team improved to 5-1. "This was our first road trip, so I am pleased with how we handled that. I've brought teams maybe with more talent out here and if we had done some of the things we did tonight, we wouldn't have won (those games), so I really like this football team."
Martins Ferry did what it does. It ran the ball effectively, but it also unleashed a passing game that hadn't been utilized much during the first half of the season. All told, the Purple Riders outgained the Jets, 344-145.
On top of the offensive work, the Riders were once again opportunistic in other areas. They blocked a punt, which led to a score, and sophomore Arjay Burress picked off a Union Local pass and raced it back 85 yards for a touchdown.
"Martins Ferry's a good football team, but I thought we came out and played well early, but then we proceeded to shoot ourselves in the foot time and time again," Union Local head coach Bruce Stiles lamented. "We're just a team that needs more experience. We're going to go back to the drawing board and hope to get better for next week."
The Riders' passing game wasted little time in getting cranked up as seniors Brian Styles and Robert Vargo hooked up for a 49-yard touchdown on first possession of the game.
For the game, Styles completed 11 of his 13 attempts for an impressive 170 yards.
"Brian did a great job at quarterback," Bruney said. "He ran the offense well. He's so athletic and zipped the ball in there. Hitting Robert right off the bat was big."
The Jets gained some momentum late in the first. After Eric Dunfee found Isaac Goodson for 32 yards on a gadget play, senior Travis James finished the drive with a 1-yard run. Dunfee's PAT knotted the game.
The Jets' momentum, however, was short-lived.
On a third-and-long, Bruce Burger broke off a 45-yard, untouched scoring run. Burress' second PAT kick made it 14-7.
After the Riders' defense forced a quick three-and-out, Hondo Palmer busted into the Jets' backfield, blocked the punt and then fell on the loose football. The Riders were in business at the Jets' 15.
"The blocked punt was huge," Bruney said. "
Three plays later, Burger was in the end zone again and the Riders led 20-7.
"We had some kids not focus and it cost us," Stiles said of the almost three-minute stretch when the tie game was blown open. "You have to be ready to play all the time and we weren't. It cost us, too."
Union Local forced a turnover as Colten Burnheimer pounced on a fumble.
However, on a fourth down play, James was pressured by Vargo off the end and Burress stepped in front of the pass and weaved his way back up the field for the touchdown. Senior Marcus Sutton ran in for the 2-point conversion and it was 28-7 at the half.
After a scoreless third quarter in which both teams had basically just one possession, Burress capped the scoring with a 47-yard burst down the left sideline. He then connected on the PAT.
"We talked at halftime that we were going to try to shorten the game in the third quarter," Bruney said. "Arjay made a great run. He's a good back who never gives up on a run."
Burress finished with a team-high 77 yards rushing on 16 carries. Burger added 64 on nine carries. Styles' favorite target in the passing game was junior Jake Barritt. He hauled in seven passes for 93 yards.
The Riders' aforementioned poise - especially that of the coaching staff - was tested thanks to an uncharacteristic eight penalties for 80 yards, including no fewer than four holding penalties.
"In three scrimmages and five games, we had one hold," Bruney said. "We put ourselves in a hole with some of those penalties, but our kids hung in there."
Union Local's Jake Leishman led the Jets' offense with 70 yards on 14 carries. Spencer Ware was the leading receiver for UL with three receptions for 23 yards.
The Purple Riders return to the Dave Bruney Football Complex for their home finale against Buckeye Local. The Jets host 4-2 Indian Creek the same evening.
At halftime, Joclyn Smith selected the odd-colored rose and was crowned Homecoming Queen.