St. Clairsville to clash with Licking Valley in Division IV, Region 15 Final
There are only eight teams in Division IV still practicing football today throughout the Buckeye State.
And while St. Clairsville is excited to be a part of that group, the Red Devils are far from satisifed.
Quite simply, the Red Devils have their sights set on higher goals. But, head coach Brett McLean has stressed to his team and coaches this week that the opportunity they have in front of them isn’t one that should be taken for granted.
“When we’ve been in this game before (2007 and 2012), it was tougher to soak it all in,” McLean said. “I don’t know if it’s being a little bit older and a little bit less naive, but I’ve really encouraged our kids and staff to enjoy this. It’s really an awesome thing to be playing for a regional championship.”
St. Clairsville, which owns three regional championships in its illustrious history, will try to add another trophy to its collection and, more importantly, advance to the state semifinals on Nov. 24 against an opponent to be announced this weekend by the OHSAA, Saturday night at Zanesville’s Sulsberger Memorial Stadium against Newark Licking Valley with kickoff slated for 7.
The Red Devils’ bus hadn’t even pulled out of Zanesville High School last Saturday after they dispatched Bloom-Carroll, 41-14, and McLean was already hard at work in the preparation for the Panthers.
“I think I burnt up my cell phone battery searching the Internet on the ride home (Saturday),” McLean said. “I think we were working until 3 a.m. (Sunday), then we traded with them in the morning and started to break those films down immediately.”
Such is life in the postseason.
“I always say, and I mean it, the researching of teams and opponents is the best part of the Ohio playoffs,” McLean said.
McLean and his staff put their team through a “mental day” of practice on Monday and have been going over the Panthers’ schemes and tendancies since, including an offense that’s more run oriented, but has thrown for more than 1,300 yards, too.
“They have some big-time players, but that’s to be expected this time of the year,” McLean said. “Their offensive line is impressive and they have some really athletic skill kids.”
Licking Valley qualified as the seven seed after a 7-3 regular season. Its losses came to fellow regional finalists Sheridan (36-21) and Johnstown-Monroe (10-9) and to a Division III Granville squad, which was bounced last week by Sheridan.
“They’ve played some big-time competition,” McLean said. “When you’ve lost to two teams playing in Week 13 and another that lost in Week 12, that’s impressive. We have all the respect in the world for that league they play in.”
The Panthers, according to their veteran head coach Randy Baughman, learned something in each of their losses, which is currently paying dividends in the playoffs, which has seen them eliminate Gallia Academy (36-12) and Indian Valley (56-36).
“We were beaten by good teams,” Baughman said. “When you take one on the chin, you learn something about yourself. We learned something right off the bat, in the opener, but we stuck with the program and continued to improve throughout the season.”
Baughman, who has been at the helm for 37 years after a college career at West Liberty State College, has guided the Panthers to six regional titles in his career and two appearances (2001 and 2007) in the state championship game.
“This time of the year never gets old,” Baughman said. “It’s just an exciting time of the year for the players, school, community.”
The excitement, according to Baughman, has been tempered for him and his coaching staff because of the challenge that lies ahead in a Red Devils’ squad, which has been able to exert its will on both Fairland and Bloom during this tournament run.
“The first thing I am going to do (Saturday night) when we get to Zanesville is check St. Clairsville’s birth certificates,” Baughman joked. “With the size they possess, those have to be some college kids playing. They’re the biggest team I’ve seen offensively. They’re probably bigger than West Liberty.”
The Red Devils’ punishing running game has been impressive. Senior Brady Kolb — and that large and talented offensive line — make it go. Kolb — especially since Justin Heatherington was lost to an injury in Week 8 — has become the unquestioned workhorse for the Devils.
Kolb, who has carried the ball 286 times, comes into the game just 107 yards shy of 2,000 for the season. He’s scored 31 touchdowns, too.
Since Heatherington and his 1,000 yards of offense have been on the shelf, the Jordan Brothers — Aaron and Jacob — have become the complementary pieces to Kolb. Senior Kyle Storer has also taken on a bigger role in the offensive equation.
Much of the St. C. offensive success has been predicated on a large, talented and athletic offensive line that features Javon Lyons (right tackle), Avery Henry (right guard), Chase Espen (center), Austen Angus (left guard), Trey DelGuzzo (left tackle) and Andrew Elerick (tight end).
While the St. C. ground game draws the attention of defensive coordinators, Baughman isn’t about to let his team get careless against the Devils’ passing game. Quarterback Dustin Carrothers has thrown for 1,098 yards and 9 touchdowns despite just 97 attempts. Senior Craig Bober is the leading receiver with 22 receptions for 384 yards and three touchdowns.
“Obviously, their power game is impressive, but they’re able to lull you into a false sense of security to where you forget about the pass,” Baughman said. “The quarterback is capable of throwing and they have some really good receivers. It’s going to be a big challenge for our defense.”
St. Clairsville’s defense has been overshadowed at times by the offensive exploits. However, it came up with key stops last week, which allowed the offense to get rolling when the Red Devils gained separation.
“(Defensive coordinator) Ben Frye and the defensive staff did a great job and the kids made a couple of big plays, which we needed,” McLean said. “We had a couple of big interceptions and the kids adjusted to the tempo.”
McLean knows that despite all of the preparation there will still be in-game adjustments almost immediately upon kickoff.
The Panthers are led by versatile quarterback Chase Wisner. He’s thrown for 1,330 yards and 10 touchdowns. He’s also rushed 156 times for 1,115 yards and 15 touchdowns.
When Wisner isn’t running it, it’s usually in the hands of tailback Connor McLaughlin, who has carried 204 times for 1,580 yards and 24 touchdowns. Mitchell Ford is a versatile option as well. He’s caught 21 passes for 455 yards and 3 touchdowns and rushed 31 times for 403 yards and 2 touchdowns.
The skill players are able to get going becuase of the work of an offensive line, which is led by Iowa State-bound Jarrod Hufford, who is 6-5, 300. Hufford accumulated 18 FBS offers prior to committing to the Cyclones.
The Red Devils’ defense is led by Storer, Justice McCamick, Noah Trubiano, Isaak Myers, David Mellema and Tyler Tonkovich. All have enjoyed impressive post-season performances thus far.
“We need to get a quick start again,” McLean said. “Whether it’s scoring early or getting off the field defensively, like we did last week. If you’re able to get a quick start, you’re able to get the motor running a little bit and really build some confidence.”
St. Clairsville’s special teams are solid. Storer has been impressive as a kick returner and sophomore Jake Bolyard has converted 37 PAT kicks.