Special teams are vital to prep success

You hear football coaches at all levels talk about needing to be solid in all three phases of the game.

While offense and defense get most of the publicity, the third factor might be the most important aspect.

Special teams are absolutely huge in high school football.

Martins Ferry has one of the area’s premier weapons in placekicker Richie Padyjasek.

The senior, who also plays wide receiver, is not just reliable on extra points and field goals when called upon, but he also puts opposing teams behind the 8-ball.

If you keep track in a high school game, the average starting field position off a kickoff is beyond the 35-yard line and maybe even out to about the 40 or so.

In last week’s game at Shenandoah, Padyjasek kicked off eight times and seven of those were touchbacks.

In the high school game, if the ball crosses into the end zone, it can’t be returned. Padyjasek erases any doubt with the length of his kicks.

So, cutting to the chase, the Zeps’ offense not only had to solve the Purple Riders’ defense, it had to go 80 yards to do it. I realize teams can drive 80 yards, but to ask a high school team to string together a lengthy, 80-yard drive is many times a challenge.

Another aspect of special teams which I’ve noticed in two weeks seems to be a problem is punt returning. Many teams have two returners back on punts, but a majority of times both players let the ball hit and roll.

Those moves have to drive coaches crazy because you’re giving away field position. If you signal fair catch, you’re protected.

The third aspect of special teams are PATs. While Padyjasek is seemingly automatic, many teams have serious struggles with extra points.

Keeping the game on sevens is such an important piece of the game. By converting those, it never puts the coach or team in position to where it has to chase points. So many things have to occur in a high school game on PATs. The kick, snap, hold and blocking have to be on par for it to be successful.

Personally, I think special teams coaches deserve a pay raise. The special teams might be the most important part of the game when you actually sit down and think about it.


Small School

1. Barnesville – The Shamrocks went on the road for the first time and pulled out a hard-fought victory at Meadowbrook. Barnesville is on the road again this week at Union Local in a battle for the coveted ‘Milk Bucket.’

2. Linsly – The Cadets make a big jump this week. They were fifth a week ago, but turned a lot of heads with a convincing victory at Indian Creek. Linsly is home this Saturday and if you get a chance, check them out. Coach B.J. Depew’s team is entertaining, athletic and talented.

3. Monroe Central – The Seminoles displayed some of the characteristics that most expected them to show this past Friday in an impressive win against Shadyside. The Seminoles were fueled by a pair of pick sixes.

4. Wheeling Central – It’s tough to win and drop, but that happened to the Knights because the Seminoles were so impressive. Coach Mike Young’s team posted its second straight road win over a Buckeye 8 opponent at Edison. Central has an acid test this week at Madonna.

5. Madonna – The Blue Dons have shown firepower and a stingy defense in two outings. Madonna quarterback Ross Comis is one of the best quarterbacks you’ve never heard of. The Dons were impressive in a 28-7 victory against Steubenville Central.

Just Missed: Bishop Donahue (2-0), Shadyside (1-1) and Beallsville (1-1).

Big School

1. Steubenville – Until someone proves it’s a better team than Big Red, Steubenville will continue to hold down this spot. Big Red made it 2-0 with an impressive win against Buchtel. Steubenville actually was in a dogfight, but a late JoJo Pierro TD run broke the game open.

2. St. Clairsville – The Red Devils are an extremely talented team with speed galore. St. Clairsville showed all sorts of weapons in an impressive, 42-12, win against Brooke.

3. Cambridge – The Bobcats continued to click on all cylinders offensively thanks to the legs of talented tailback Dashaun Lewis. Cambridge has River View this week before embarking on the difficult part of the ECOL schedule.

4. Martins Ferry – The Purple Riders passed their first road test of the season with flying colors by cruising past Shenandoah. Tyrel Simmons and C.J. Williams are one of the area’s top rushing tandems. Ferry faces a stern test this weekend when Ridgewood comes calling.

5. Buckeye Local – The Panthers make their first appearance in the power poll. A 2-0 start is just what head coach Anthony Barsch had hoped for especially after the rough start to his inaugural season with the Panthers. Buckeye Local will be favored again this week at John Marshall.

Just Missed: Oak Glen (2-0).


This week’s top game is slated for Purple Rider Stadium when Martins Ferry hosts fellow 2-0 Ridgewood.

Martins Ferry gets its final Buckeye 8 tuneup against a Generals’ squad, which has been a constant in the Division V playoffs in recent years. The Generals feature nine senior starters, including tight end Evan Jones, who has verbally committed to Michigan State.

Another important game is set for Flannery Field in Hannibal when River hosts Monroe Central.

The Seminoles are coming off the big win against Shadyside, while the Pilots are trying to overcome a tough, 6-0, setback to Newcomerstown.

In that game, the Pilots moved the ball seemingly at will, but five turnovers, a blocked punt and a blocked field goal thwarted scoring chances.

Wheeling Central and Madonna put matching 2-0 records on the line Saturday evening at Jimmy Carey Stadium. That game has the makings of being an absolute dandy.


In case you’ve not checked the OVAC standings (they’re on today’s scoreboard page), some of the biggest schools in the conference are also enduring some of the biggest struggles in the early season.

Take the West Virginia side for example, who would have thought Wheeling Park, John Marshall, Brooke and Magnolia would all be sporting 0-2 records?

Wheeling Park and Magnolia are going to win eventually. However, Brooke and John Marshall are enduring serious problems.

Brooke head coach Tom Bruney simply called out his team after its loss at St. Clairsville. Losing didn’t seem to bother Bruney as much as the fact that his team isn’t buying into what he’s trying to tell them.

Staskey can be reached at sstaskey@timesleaderonline.com