Riders rebound with impressive victory

Resiliency and resolve are two nice attributes to have in football.

Martins Ferry has a heavy dose of both.

The banged-up and youthful Purple Riders bounced back from their initial setback in impressive fashion Friday night. The Purple rode a strong second half-performance en route to a 37-3 triumph over a young and game Union Local team at the Dave Bruney Football Complex.

Coach Dave Bruney’s charges are playing without the services of two-way star Trent Neavin, starting quarterback-linebacker Tyler Strama and two-way starter Brian Styles, one of the team’s most explosive players.

Still, the 4-1 Purple persevere, due in major part to a return of the Riders’ vaunted running attack, which was a focus for Bruney heading into the contest.

“We have won our four games in different fashion, which is a good thing. We wanted to establish our running game tonight and we did. That was key as they were having 8-9 guys in the box,” Bruney noted. “Our offensive line did a tremendous job and we had several backs run effectively.

“But give credit to Union Local. I think a part of scholastic athletics is to acknowledge when your opponent plays well, even when they don’t win,” Bruney continued. “Union Local is playing a lot of young kids and they performed well and played very physical football. They had a tough break to start the second half and then we just began to wear on them.”

Union Local did acquit itself nicely, especially during the first half. Mark Cisar, whose club was coming off a win over Edison, appears to have his Jets flying in the right direction, despite playing a host of freshmen and sophomores.

“I am proud of our kids’ effort tonight. We played a super team and played right with them in the first half, overcoming a lot of adversity along the way,” Cisar said. “The big turning point was when we mishandled the second half kickoff, giving them good field position and then they take it in for a touchdown.

“I thought our quarterback (Gavin Porter) played well. We must do a better job of catching the ball,” he added. “When you are playing as many freshmen as we are against a team of Martins Ferry’s caliber it’s going to take its toll.”

Martins Ferry’s talented sophomore Jack Fitch opened the game with a sparkling 55-yard kickoff return to the UL 38. The Riders, however turned it over on downs.

The Jets were unable to move and punted away to the Ferry 36. The host embarked on a 9-play drive, capped by a 2-yard scoring run by junior quarterback Eric Flowers with 6:11 left in the opening frame. Junior Marcus Sutton, who enjoyed a stellar night on both sides of the ball, ran in the conversion for an 8-0 lead.

In the early second quarter, the Jets marched to the Riders’ 16, setting up a 33-yard field by Eric Dunfee for an 8-3 lighting.

Ferry responded on its ensuing possession. Setting up shop at the 28, the hosts strung together 11 plays to reach paydirt with the help of two key plays.

On fourth and one from its own 38, Bruney opted to go for it and it was a decision he would not regret as Sutton busted it for 25 yards.

That set the stage for a fourth and six from the 29. Flowers was sacked on the play, but UL was whistled for holding, breathing new life into the drive. The Purple made the most of the opportunity, courtesy of a 20-yard jaunt by Sutton with 7:11 left in the half. He also ran in the conversion for a 16-3 Ferry lead.

The first half ended in bizarre fashion.

The Jets staged a furious drive in the waning seconds and advanced the ball inside Ferry’s 40 on the final play of the half after a 49-yard scoring pass was nullified by a UL penalty. Ferry was whistled for a dead ball personal foul. The officials ruled the flag would be assessed on the second-half kickoff which Cisar took exception to.

The former all-state quarterback at Magnolia subsequently displayed his still lethal arm as he threw the ball out of the stadium from the 35. Consequently, the second half started with personal fouls against each team. When UL mishandled the kick, Rider frosh Arjay Burress covered it at the Ferry 47.

The hosts needed just four plays to score as Brandon Laughman busted in from the 3. The pass failed, leaving Ferry on top, 22-3.

Ferry put the game out of reach later in the quarter on the strength of a 12-play, 84-yard march. Flowers capped it from a yard out. Flowers tossed the conversion pass to senior standout Cody Schau for a 30-3 reading.

Senior workhorse Sean McGee tallied the final TD on a 1-yard run. Frosh Nikko Bruney added the PAT.

“This team has overcome a lot. I am proud of their resolve. We still are in a position to achieve a great deal this year,” Bruney said. “We will have another challenge this coming week in Buckeye Local.”

Ferry rushed for more than 300 yards, fueled by Sutton’s 117 and Laughman’s 115.

“I keep telling people we are going to be a good football team,” Cisar said. “I truly believe that. I have a lot of faith in these kids.”

Brenna Becca was crowned Martins Ferry homecoming queen at halftime.

Union Local visits Indian Creek Friday.