SPARKY and so much more at stake in Bellaire vs. Ferry

If the acronym SPARKY is being thrown around, it can mean only one thing.

It’s Week 10 of the prep football regular season and Bellaire and Martins Ferry are getting set to get after it once again on the gridiron.

Such is the case this week as the Big Reds make the short trip to Purple Rider Stadium to meet the Riders in a game with massive post-season ramifications for both squads.

“It’s nice that there’s added incentive, I guess, but to me it’s still just the Martins Ferry-Bellaire game,” Riders’ head coach Dave Bruney said. “To me, this game has never added any added incentive. If you asked a lot of the old timers that have been around this game for a long time if they’d rather win this game or make the playoffs, I think most would opt for winning this game.”

The Purple Riders have lost three in a row since blanking Buckeye Local to reach the five-win mark.

“We practice the same and prepare the same whether or not we’ve won 20 in a row or lost 20 in a row,” Bruney said. “It doesn’t affect how we go about our business and we can’t let that happen. We have to prepare for each week the same, but we know the kids understand the importance of this game for everyone.”

The Big Reds, meanwhile, are one of the area’s most surprising teams. They’re currently sitting at 7-2 on the season and have won three in a row. They’re currently ranked sixth in the Division V, Region 17 computer poll.

“We’ve said from the start that week 11 is our goal,” said Bellaire head coach Jose Davis. “We’re close, but we also know that there could be no week 11 without week 10. We have to be totally focused on this week and we’ve got to be ready to match the physicality that Martins Ferry is going to bring to the field because we’ve not come close to doing that the last five years.”

Despite their losing skid, the Riders still find themselves in the eighth spot in the Division IV, Region 15 computer poll.

The Purple Riders have had possession of the SPARKY Trophy since 2007 and have had their way with the Big Reds during that stretch.

The 2012 Big Reds have taken the changing culture approach and have done so by virtue of winning seemingly close game after close game. Bellaire has edged Steubenville Central and Harrison Central on its final offensive possession and then posted a defensive stand last week against Edison.

“It’s definitely helped build our character,” Davis said. “It’s brought us closer together as a team and staff. There have been plenty of times when the kids could have hung their heads, but they’ve continued to fight. It’s really not about anything we’ve done from a coaching standpoint, but more about these kids and their attitudes.”

The game plans for Friday night could be totally polar opposites. Martins Ferry will look to run the ball first, while the Big Reds want to throw it all over the lot.

“Bellaire really isn’t doing anything differently than they’ve done the last three years, but they’ve gotten better at doing those things as you would expect,” Bruney said. “It certainly presents a challenge. They’ve really gotten better as the season has gone along on both sides of the ball.”

For the Big Reds, it all starts with junior quarterback Spencer Badia, who has thrown for 2,373 yards and 21 touchdowns this season. He’s been called upon to throw the ball 311 times.

He’s got a plethora of receivers from which to choose. Junior Nick Patrone has blossomed into the go-to-threat. He’s caught an Ohio Valley-best 51 balls for 754 yards and five touchdowns.

Quinton Crosby (28-441-4td), Hunter Westlake (27-462-4td), Kenny Hess (25-352-4td) and Nick Maffe (20-230-2td) are also solid.

While the Big Reds are pass first, they’ve got the ability to run. Maffe has gained 415 yards and scored seven touchdowns. Badia has ran for 272 yards and three touchdowns.

The Riders, meanwhile, have employed a backfield by committee this season. They’ve got four players with better than 350 yards rushing. Tailback Marcus Sutton is the leader with 489 yards and four touchdowns.

However, junior quarterback Eric Flowers was the primary ball carrier against St. Clairsville last week. He’s ran for 368 yards and five touchdowns this season. Junior speedster Brian Styles has carried 44 times for 363 yards and three scores. Brandon Laughman is also a solid option with 385 yards and seven scores.

Flowers has been a solid passer since taking over for the injured Tyler Strama in Week 4. Flowers has completed 78-of-126 aerials for 954 yards and six touchdowns.

Senior Cody Schau is the big-play threat in the passing game with 50 receptions for 770 yards and eight touchdowns. Junior tight end Robert Vargo has made 22 catches for 234 yards and a score.

“We expect Ferry to line up and run right at us,” Davis said. “We have to attack on defense. We can’t sit back and let them pummel us physically. There are no secrets in this game. We’ll do what we do and they’ll do what they do, but which team will be tougher?”

Kickoff is at 7 p.m.