Riders put finishing touches on impressive regular season

High school football players are only promised 10 games.

Unlike every other sport in this state, not all teams make the postseason.

Thus, making the most of the 10 you’re guaranteed is paramount.

Martins Ferry, which many thought might be a year away from being really special with an underclassmen dominated roster, certainly made the most of its regular season.

You name the goal and the Purple Riders achieved it by virtue of Saturday’s hard-earned 22-17 victory against arch-rival Bellaire at jam-packed and soggy Nelson Field.

Whether it’s the Buckeye 8, OVAC Class 4A, a playoff berth and then playing at home for Week 11, the Purple Riders claimed at least a piece of all the above by virtue of their victory.

“It’s just been an unreal season,” said Ferry senior Robert Vargo. “I can’t be more proud of my teammates for how hard we’ve worked and our coaches have done a great job of putting together great gameplans. This is a total team effort.”

Like so many teams during the course of a 10-week season, there are peaks and valleys that all teams have to deal with. The Riders handled their business and any adversity that might have come along the way with flying colors.

“We got thrown a couple of curveballs during the course of the year, but our kids played great and practiced great,” Martins Ferry head coach Dave Bruney said.

That – maybe above anything – is what impressed Bruney, who has now led his Riders to six OVAC championships and all 12 of their postseason berths, the most.

“I think my coaching staff did the best job of coaching that I’ve had done in 41 years,” Bruney said as he had to pause to contain his emotion. “I have to tip my hat to the coaches.”

Maybe most important out of all of those accomplishments, to the players, coaches and community is bringing SPARKY back to Martins Ferry.

I’d be willing to bet that you can ask most alumni of both Martins Ferry and Bellaire and they’d remember the battle SPARKY maybe moreso than any other game they played.

As you expect in big games, the Purple Riders’ seniors brought it.

“This is pretty special,” said senior Marcus Sutton, who made a huge catch of a Brian Styles’ pass on the Riders’ game-winning touchdown drive in the third quarter. “This a great group of guys to play with. We play hard each week and it’s like a big family. We’re not ready for it to end, either. We have to keep playing hard each week and we have a chance to go far.”

Maybe the biggest of them all – both literally and figuratively – was Vargo, who must batted down no fewer than 10 Spencer Badia passes, from his defensive end post with his 6-6 frame. Of those, most came in the second half when the Riders’ defense pitches an impressive shutout.

“Coach told me all week that if I can’t get (to the quarterback) try to use my size and knock the ball down,” Vargo said.

Vargo and his classmates certainly remembered when Bellaire snapped the Purple Riders’ five-year winning streak and stunned Ferry at Purple Rider Stadium in overtime.

“Our kids have been very resilient, we have their attention and they’ve not allowed themselves to have a bad practice since July,” Bruney said. “That lends itself to some consistency. When they believe in what they’re doing, you can make just a few minor adjustments and get it done.”

While there was much celebrating on the Riders’ sideline, there was dejection on the Big Reds’ sideline.

The thing that Bellaire’s coaches, players and even fans must realize that there is a tomorrow.

The Big Reds had known for several weeks they’d been in the postseason. Obviously, they wanted to beat their rival as badly as Martins Ferry wanted to beat them.

However, there is more football to be played and many players in the annual week 10 showdown never had that chance, so the Bellaire players need to relish the opportunity.

The Big Reds are co-champions of the Buckeye 8 along with the Purple Riders and St. Clairsville and will wait and see about their fate in the OVAC Class 3A title chase. One goal that the loss cost them is a home game next week.

But, considering the alternative of not even being in the Division VI tournament field, the Big Reds must shake off the loss quickly.


— AS FOR next week, Martins Ferry will play on Saturday, most likely, against Williamsport Westfall at Purple Rider Stadium. The Big Reds, meanwhile, appear to be headed on the road to undefeated Centerburg.

— IT WAS nice to see John Magistro, the former Bellaire head coach and current Westerville Central head man, in attendance at the game. Magistro might live in suburban Columbus, but he’s still an Ohio Valley guy through and through.

— VARGO AND Bellaire’s Justin Keyser, a freshman, were presented the Sportsmanship Awards after the game by the schools’ respective boosters groups.