St. C., Harrison ready to battle for Coal Bucket and so much more

You name it and Friday’s showdown in Cadiz probably has it.

Whether it’s playoff points, OVAC and Buckeye 8 standings implications, perfect records or even a ‘Coal Bucket,’ it’ll be on the line when St. Clairsville and Harrison Central clash Friday night.

“We just keep playing undefeated teams, which keeps the kids excited, but makes the coaches a nervous wreck,” laughed Red Devils’ head coach Brett McLean. “You can’t come into any game in (the Buckeye 8) sleepy or not ready to go. Every week is a new mountain to climb, per se and this week is a real test.”

The Red Devils, who are ranked sixth in the state’s AP poll and on top of the Region 15 computer rankings, are coming off a 48-6 victory against then unblemished Indian Creek and have yet to be really challenged since the first half against Wheeling Park in the opener.

“They’re really, really good,” said Harrison Central head coach Justin Kropka. “I’ve been looking at their film since Saturday, and I am still trying to find a chink in their armor.”

The Huskies, who are ranked 13th in the Division IV AP Poll and third in the computer rankings, are coming off a cherished victory against Martins Ferry. They also owns victories against Wheeling Central, Weir and Caldwell.

“I am definitely not surprised by the type of season Harrison Central is having,” McLean said. “I thought Krop’s team was flying under the radar some in the pre-season just because they’ve got such a good senior class of kids who’ve been around a long time.”

Everyone knows how high powered the St. Clairsville offense is, they’re learning how stingy the defense can be and last week saw that its special teams are extremely solid, too.

“Our special teams and defense definitely excelled because our offense looked bad most of the first half and third quarter,” McLean said. “Our special teams were huge, but we’ve got to execute better offensively.”

The Red Devils’ offense is triggered by senior quarterback Matt Kinnick, who’s completed 36-of-57 passes for 679 yards and 11 touchdowns. He’s yet to be picked off.

On the ground, junior speedster Jaylon Brown leads the way with 50 carries for 329 yards and seven touchdowns.

Senior Dan Monteroso – the Boston College commit – is the Red Devils’ leading receiver with 13 receptions for 313 yards. He’s had seven touchdowns via the air. Junior Michael Ferns – the University of Michigan verbal – has caught five passes for 116 yards and scored twice. He’s also ran for 90 yards.

“I’m not sure I’ve seen as much talent assembled on one Buckeye 8 team like this St. Clairsville team has,” Kropka said. “Everywhere you look is a really good player. Even the guys you don’t hear about every week are good. It’s really impressive.”

Kropka has been trying to come up with ways to slow down the Red Devils, who are well balanced between the run and pass, but in the end he just wants his team to stay within itself.

“We’ve got to play our game,” Kropka said. “We have to take care of the ball and we can’t afford mental mistakes. It’s the same thing we want out of our kids every week, but they’re especially important when you’re playing a team as capable as St. Clairsville.”

The Huskies’ defense was staunch against Ferry, bottling up the Riders’ running game. Senior Nick Pelegreen, Tyler Rose, Nate Maykowski, Niko Williams, Nate Olmstead and a host of others are the defensive leaders.

“Harrison Central’s defense is really playing fast,” McLean said. “They’ve really slowed down some really good running teams in Martins Ferry and Wheeling Central. They’re very stout up front.”

The Huskies’ offense is led by senior quarterback Rashaen Mitchell, who has passed for 648 yards and eight touchdowns on 31-of-50 accuracy.

The ground game features one of the area’s premier running backs and leading rusher in senior Maurtice Hython. He’s ran 72 times for 691 yards and six touchdowns.

When the Huskies go to the air, Mitchell’s favorite targets are Olmstead, Josh Moore and Pelegreen. The trio has combined for 21 receptions for 448 yards and six touchdowns.

“Harrison Central has a lot of kids who can make big plays,” McLean said. “They’ve got a physical running back, a few receivers who can stretch the field and (Mitchell) gives the offense all three facets. Having him back there and healthy is a huge factor.”

The Red Devils’ defense is led by senior linebacker Luke Smith, who is coming off a 15-tackle performance against Indian Creek. Corey Ernest, Justin Callarik, Colby Lindsay, Cole Stephens, Jerrid Marhefka, Brown and Ferns are the defensive stalwarts for the Red Devils.

“St. Clairsville’s defense is very underrated,” Kropka pointed out. “They’re very opportunistic and I think that feeds from their offense because the offense can score so many points that it the defense can afford to be aggressive because they know they’re going to score some.”