Eastern Ohio talent on display Saturday at Muskingum

NEW CONCORD – There was a definite Eastern Ohio flavor here Saturday afternoon when nationally ranked Mount Union met Muskingum University in an Ohio Athletic Conference football game at McConagha Stadium.

A pair of streaks were continued as the No. 2 Purple Raiders (10-0, 9-0) capped their 21st unbeaten regular-season with a methodical, 28-0, triumph over the Fighting Muskies (4-6, 3-6), who, after winning their first four games and being ranked in the nation, dropped their sixth straight contest.

A total of eight individuals took part in the contest, be it as a cheerleader, player, coach or administrator. Half-a-dozen of them were in Red-and-Black, with the other two donning Purple-and-White.

Former Martins Ferry grid standout Jeremy Murray didn’t have his usual sparkling day running the ball, but he did take a swing pass 45 yards to the house on a catch-and-run in which he weaved his way through a myriad of players before dragging two Muskies across the goalline.

“I really wanted the end zone on that one,” Murray said after the contest, which was played on a crisp autumn afternoon. “We were having some trouble running the ball, so we went with the screen. The line and receivers blocked really well and I ended up scoring.”

Murray, who has racked up 1,322 yards and 15 touchdowns this season via the ground, finished with 74 yards on 21 carries. He also added a pair of receptions for 59 yards.

While the Purple Raiders tossed the shutout defensively, Murray said the offense has to start picking it up.

“We’ve got a lot to clean up,” he said. “The receivers and quarterback played really well today, but the line has to step up better in the playoffs.”

Mount Union’s next appearance will be in the NCAA Division III playoffs, in which it has advanced to the Amos Alonzo Stagg championship game six consecutive seasons. The Purple Raiders have won 10 national titles in 15 attempts.

“Our offensive line has really stepped it up this season because they didn’t think we’d be able to run the ball early in the season,” Murray continued. “I think we’re ranked in the top 10 in the nation now. That’s a good start and we just needed to finish strong today.”

The other Purple Raider is another former Purple Rider in Zac Bruney. The son of legendary Martins Ferry head coach Dave serves as Mount Union’s offensive coordinator.

ON THE flip side, the Muskies were led onto the field by head coach Al Logan, a Barnesville graduate.

Muskingum’s quarterback also has Shamrock Land ties as Dalton Smith was a three-sport standout for the Green-and-Red.

The sophomore was 14-of-29 Saturday for a mere 92 yards. He was picked off twice and harassed numerous times as he ran nine times for minus-2 yards.

“We’ve kind of hit a wall, offensively, the past five or six games,” Smith acknowledged. “But, you have to give Mount Union credit. They’ve got a good defense and they came out ready to play.”

Smith, who was thrown into the fire to say last year when the starter was injured, said there are a lot of things that he needs to work on before next season to make him a better quarterback.

“I think there is room for improvement, and I think that if you asked anyone on this team, they’d say the same. That is the goal in the off-season,” he said.

On the defensive side of the ball, two Muskies with Ohio Valley connections saw action in the trenches.

Former Bridgeport two-way lineman and St. Clairsville grad Jake Antolak both saw time at defensive tackle, with West being credited with one assisted tackle and resulted in a loss of a yard.

“Our defense has been playing really good, but we need our offense to step up,” West said. “We had a good game plan today to shut down the run, and it worked.”

Beallsville alumnus and former West Liberty football coach Larry Shank serves as the Muskies’ athletic director.

Honored in pre-game ceremonies was senior cheerleader Lauren Doyle, a Bellaire High School graduate.

North can be reached at knorth@timesleaderonline.com