Bruney, ODU rolling right along

Zac Bruney firmly believes that everything happens for a reason.

The Martins Ferry High School product was preparing last spring to serve under his father, Dave, once again with the Purple Riders.

However, upon hearing of an opening at Ohio Dominican University for the position of quarterbacks coach, Bruney pursued it because coaching at the collegiate level is where his passion truly lied.

The pursuit became reality for Bruney who was hired by Bill Connelly.

Since then, the Panthers have won all 10 of their games, moved to No. 7 in the country and are now preparing for their first Division II playoff game.

“You could describe it as a whirlwind,” Bruney said during a phone interview early this week. “It was a quick transition, but it’s gone the way I’d hoped. This has been a great coaching staff to work with and our players are humble, unselfish and have a team-first attitude. I feel fortunate, blessed and lucky to be at Ohio Dominican. The success we’re having is icing on the cake, but we want to keep it going.”

The Panthers, who steamrolled their way to the outright GLIAC Championship, host West Texas A&M Saturday on their campus in Columbus after having a bye in the first round of the tournament.

“Personnel-wise, this is probably going to be the best team we’ve faced all season,” Bruney said. “They’re big and physical on defense and they score a lot of points. There are only 16 teams left, so this is the kind of team you’d expect to face at this point.”

Comparing schedules and leagues is a challenge at the Division II level because not many games are televised. However, knowing what kind of high school football is played in Texas jumps out at Bruney.

“Their league isn’t as big as GLIAC, but the quality of football is high,” Bruney allowed. “The quality of high school football is high. The Division I teams are always good (in Texas), but the Division II teams are good, too. When there’s that much high school talent, it just matriculates its way down.”

The Panthers had high expectations coming into the season after an 8-3 campaign in which they won their final five games in 2012.

“We thought we’d have a good team, but the GLIAC is such a good league that you have to come ready every week,” Bruney said. “Our kids responded great. They’ve played with that want to be 1-0 each week mentality all season. It’s been fun so far, and now we’re trying to keep it going as long as possible.”

Ohio Dominican demonstrated it was going to be a factor right out of the gate when it soundly defeated a Georgetown (Ky) squad, which was nationally ranked in NAIA, 41-14. A couple of weeks later, ODU drilled ninth-ranked Grand Valley State, 57-14, in what Bruney called a “perfect storm.”

Their closest game since then was an 31-19 victory at Ashland, which was the defending GLIAC champion.

“We thought our schedule was front loaded,” Bruney said. “From that Grand Valley game on, our guys really felt like we could have a special season. And they continued to improve each and every week.”

Ohio Dominican, which is in just its fourth season of football, played a game on national television against Findlay on Oct. 17. The Panthers won, 41-21.

“That was a tough two-week stretch because we had the short week to get ready for Findlay,” Bruney said. “We were able to make it through the first seven games relatively healthy and undefeated, so we knew we had a good shot to win at least the south division.”

Ohio Dominican wrapped up the undefeated regular season and outright league title with a 40-13 victory at Malone on Nov. 16.

“The college football season is such a grind,” Bruney said. “Our bye weeks came at good times for both the players and coaches.”

After another bye week, the grind resumes this weekend and the stakes are even higher.

“We had some guys banged up, who are getting healthy again, so we’re hoping to play our best game on Saturday,” Bruney said.

Bruney’s collegiate alma mater, Mt. Union, has the nation’s longest Division III winning streak at 26; Ohio Dominican’s 15 straight wins leads Division II and Ohio State’s 23 straight victories leads the FBS.

“That’s a pretty neat stat,” Bruney said. “It really says a lot about the high school coaches, programs and players in the state of Ohio being some of the best in the United States. It’s pretty special to sit back and think about it.”

With the Buckeyes preparing to face their rival up north and the Panthers prepping for their playoff game, excitement in Columbus has been off the chart.

“It’s definitely an exciting time around Columbus,” Bruney said. “We’re picking up some followers and gaining some exposure. It’s great for our kids and the university.”

Aside from the game, Bruney has a full plate this weekend.

His sister, Ashley, is getting married Saturday in Wheeling, so immediately after the game, Bruney is hopping in the car and driving back to the Ohio Valley.

“It’s going to be a wild Saturday,” Bruney said. “The ceremony starts at 3:30, so I am hopeful to be back in the valley for the reception. Hopefully, I am celebrating two things.”

Bruney definitely followed the fine season the Purple Riders put forth.

“I was rooting hard each and every week for those guys,” Bruney said. “Obviously, I want my dad to have as much success as possible, but I also knew all of those kids from working with them for a year. They had a great season. Winning the OVAC, sharing the Buckeye 8 and reaching the second round of the playoffs was great for them. I am very happy for my dad and the entire team.”

Dave Bruney hasn’t seen an Ohio Dominican game in person yet this season. Because of the wedding, he won’t be able to come to the playoff game either. If Grand Valley State and Ohio Dominican both prevail this weekend, ODU will host another game on Dec. 7. If not, the Panthers will be boarding a flight to play at Colorado Pueblo.

“We’re hoping everything works out this weekend and we can play at home again,” Zac said.