Coal Bucket on the line in St. Clairsville vs. Harrison

During the first half of the season, both St. Clairsville head coach Brett McLean and Harrison Central head coach Justin Kropka thought their teams exceeded the expectations put before them.

However, what the second half has in store certainly remains to be seen as both combines come into their annual ‘Battle for the Coal Bucket’ Friday night at Red Devil Stadium with injury concerns.

Neither coach, though, knows the other team nor anyone else are feeling sorry for them.

“Our kids will have to step up because the schedule is still there,” McLean said. “We’re going to be relying on some different players to fill jobs, but it’s a chance to develop some more depth, so it could turn into a positive for the team.”

The Red Devils’ head coach, who has his club sitting at 5-0 and ranked No. 2 in the Division V Associated Press Poll, ruled out both of his Division I commits for this weekend’s meeting with the Huskies.

Seniors Jaylon Brown and Michael Ferns both will sit out this week as they battle a leg and shoulder injury, respectively, that they suffered in last week’s win against Indian Creek.

Their long-term statuses for the remainder of the season haven’t been determined yet.

“It’s always tough when two seniors have to miss any games because they’re living on borrowed time in terms of their high school careers,” McLean said. “The kids hurt for each other and even on Friday, you could feel the energy zapped out because the kids knew a couple of their teammates were hurt.”

Brown is the area’s premier big-play threat. The Youngstown State commit has ran for 732 yards and 11 touchdowns on 99 carries this season.

The Michigan-bound Ferns, meanwhile, wears a myriad of hats on the offensive side of the ball and is also the on-field leader of the defensive unit. Offensively, he’s ran for almost 200 yards and caught six balls for 118 yards.

Though Brown and Ferns won’t play, Kropka knows the Devils have plenty of firepower and players waiting their turn.

“I know how Coach McLean coaches these kids and I am sure someone will step up and take the reins of the offense,” Kropka said. “We don’t really know who their go-to-guy will be, but they have plenty of potential go-to-guys as kids wait their turn.”

As for who will get the bulk of the carries, McLean still isn’t sure.

“It could be by committee,” McLean said. “We’ll plug some guys in there, but it’s not going to be just one guy carrying the ball all night long.”

Names thrown around by McLean include Shane Peroni, Malik Gummer, who has showed signs of being a big-play threat, Jake Stewart and Ben Coleman.

Junior quarterback Michael Monteroso, who has thrown for 407 yards this season, will be asked to take on a greater leadership role.

“We’ve got faith in our backs and our line,” McLean said. “Michael and Jaylon both have done a good job of being vocal with these guys, so they’re going to be our emotional leaders.”

The Huskies’ ground game has also taken a hit. Travis Stenson was banged up against Union Local and was basically relegated to a decoy role last week. However, Kropka believes he could be more of an option this week.

“We’re easing him back in,” Kropka said. “That kid is a warrior. We’ve got a lot of kids like that, too. Guys who’ve been playing through some injuries and above their talent levels. I am proud of these guys for that.”

The Huskies sit at 2-3 on the season and are embarking on playing their fourth opponent who is ranked in their respective state poll this week.

“We’ll see how much we’ve grown up and how we react because last week was the first time we’ve really had it handed to us,” Kropka said. “It’ll be interesting to see how a young team reacts to that kind of defeat.”

Senior quarterback David Miser has thrown for 994 yards and 10 touchdowns. However, he’s been picked off 12 times. His favorite targets are Nate Olmstead (19-463-5td) and Dalton Rutter (15-270-2td).

“I am not shocked with how Harrison has played,” McLean said. “Krop and I talk a lot and I knew he’d have a capable team, but with some unknown kids at this point. They’re a good team and capable of winning any game they play. I think it’s interesting how much they’re throwing the ball because I know Krop likes to hang his hat on the run, but Miser’s big and has a canon for an arm.”

The Red Devils’ defense is led by Stewart, Brendan Ferns, Colby Lindsay, Coleman and Gummer.