Union Local, Bellaire bid to snap skids

MORRISTOWN — Often times, high school football coaches try to avoid discussing the ‘P’ word with their players, opting instead to have them focus solely on the task at hand.

Union Local head coach Bruce Stiles took that approach — as it pertained to the playoffs — last season and his Jets dropped their final two games of the year and spent early November shooting hoops and getting ready for wrestling. So, with his team currently sitting in fifth in the Division IV, Region 19 rankings entering the ninth week, he spent Monday delivering a state of the union address.

“I kept away from talking playoffs and I think we maybe jinxed ourselves,” Stiles said. “We talked about the playoffs and the OVAC (standings) just to make our kids aware. They have a chance to set some standards and continue to raise the bar to a higher level.”

If the Jets, who have dropped two straight since a 6-0 start, hope to maintain their playoff positioning and their spot atop the OVAC Class 3A standings, a win over reeling Bellaire, which has provided a thorn in the UL side recently, is nearly vital.

“We’re down a little bit after two tough losses,” Stiles said. “Those losses came to good football team. St. Clairsville is is number one on its region and that’s not by accident. And Meadowbrook is an extremely hot team. In neither game did we play our best, but all of our goals — other than the Buckeye 8 — are still attainable.”

Bellaire, meanwhile, comes into the game looking to play the role of spoiler. The Big Reds — who are 3-5 — have lost three straight, including last week’s decisive 46-22 setback to Shadyside. A playoff entrant in Division VI last fall, Bellaire is currently 18th in the Reion 19 poll and appears to be a definite longshot even should it prevail in its final two games.

“We’re not really worried about the playoffs,” Bellaire head coach Mark Spigarelli said. “We’re trying to find out more about ourselves and that involves continuing to practice hard and playing with the pride, spirit and tradition.

“We can still salvage our season by beating two great teams in Union Local and Martins Ferry. We have to put the last few weeks behind us and I believe we will. I will take my kids over anyone.”

Bellaire has won two consecutive meetings with the Jets, including last year’s 24-13 win at Nelson Field.

“Our kids are aware that Bellaire’s had our number the last few years,” Stiles said. “Basically, that loss last year knocked us out of the playoffs and we’ve talked to our kids about that. Bellaire has a nice team again this year and we’ll need to play well.”

By Stiles’ own admission, Union Local had gotten away from its “offensive identity” for a few weeks, but he saw signs — even in the loss — of it coming back against the Red Devils. Spigarelli has been impressed with what he’s seen from the Jets.

“We have to know where (Braden) Lucas is on the field because he’s so versatile offensively,” Spigarelli said. “They can split their running backs out and try to get the ball to those guys in a bunch of different ways. Coach Stiles is a great coach and I know he’s going to have his team ready.”

Senior Braden Lucas is the Jets’ go-to-guy on offense.

He’s rushed for 614 yards and 15 touchdowns. He’s also caught 29 passes for 360 yards and 4 more touchdowns.

Senior Ben Howell complements him on the ground with 558 yards and 8 touchdowns.

Senior Cal Kildow triggers the attack at quarterback. He’s thrown for 781 yards and 5 touchdowns. He’s also ran for nearly 300 yards.

Bellaire, meanwhile, is led by senior quarterback Mason Ramsay. He’s completing 56 percent of his throws and has 1,217 yards and 15 touchdowns. He’s also ran for 9 touchdowns.

Gabe Rejonis is the Big Reds’ leading receiver with 34 receptions for 579 yards and 5 touchdowns. Talented freshman Payton Marling has made 17 receptions for 216 yards and 3 scores. On the ground, the Big Reds have gone by committee with Thor Duffy and Cole Porter seeing the bulk of the carries.

“We have to be able to stop Bellaire in every capacity because they do so many things pretty well,” Stiles said.