St. C. opens playoffs in unfamiliar territory when it goes on the road Saturday in D-IV
Some things simply never get old.
For Brett McLean and his St. Clairsville Red Devils, one of those things is clicking on the Ohio High School Athletic Association’s website the Sunday after the regular season ends and seeing their name as part of the Division IV postseason.
After a seemingly roller-coaster ride of a regular season that ended with an 8-2 record, St. Clairsville navigated its way to the postseason for the 15th time in school history and 12th under McLean’s guidance.
“There’s absolutely the same excitement (this season) as there was the first time we made it,” McLean said. “It’s still a huge accomplishment to qualify. Our kids and coaches recognize that and this is a reward for the hard work, time and effort they’ve all put in.”
While St. Clairsville has made the postseason seem like a habit, the Red Devils find themselves in somewhat of new territory, however.
For the first time since 2006, its first appearance under McLean, St. Clairsville finds itself seeded outside of the top four in its region, meaning an opening round road game at fourth-seeded John Glenn (8-2) awaits Saturday night at 7.
“(Being on the road) is definitely a different scenario, but I am hopeful we’re able to take our last two week’s experience and build off of that,” McLean said. “We need to step off the bus ready to play. We need these kids motivated and ready to play.”
The Red Devils and Little Muskies will meet at McConagha Stadium on the campus of Muskingum University in New Concord.
The Little Muskies, who also finished with an 8-2 record and won their first Muskingum Valley League championship in 30 years , are set to host a playoff game for the first time since 2001. All told, this marks John Glenn’s 11th appearance in the tournament and third consecutive under head coach Matt Edwards.
“It’s absolutely an honor to be in the playoffs and being able to host it adds to the excitement,” Edwards said. “Being able to play in front of our fans one more time is nice for the entire community of New Concord.”
John Glenn comes into the playoffs riding a seven-game winning streak since stubbing its toe, 13-12, against Thornville Sheridan. The Little Muskies other loss occurred during the opening week when they were blanked by Meadowbrook, 14-0.
“I really thought we’d get out of the gates a little bit better,” Edwards said. “We’ve been playing some of our best football the last seven weeks and I give our kids credit because they kept believing that all of our goals were attainable. We’re a senior-dominated group that’s felt week 11 and beyond could be a possibility.”
The Red Devils’ aforementioned mentioned roller coaster ride of a season saw a team that was relatively inexperienced after graduation claimed upwards of 20 seniors from a club that advanced to last season’s regional championship game.
However, St. C. hit the ground running, reeling off four straight wins, including a victory of Wheeling Park and the same Meadowbrook squad, which knocked off John Glenn, in week three, 42-12.
The Red Devils then were defeated by Region 13 playoff entrant, Indian Creek on a walk-off field goal, 13-10, and then were victimized by Harrison Central, 42-35. After a sluggish first half, St. C. rallied to win at Bellaire, 21-6, and have cruised since to wins over Union Local, Fairfield Union and last Thursday in a wind storm at Wheeling Central.
“It was a season of ups and downs,” McLean admitted. “We were probably flying about as high we could fly early on and we kind of got our heads leveled in every sense of the word in back-to-back weeks. But, our team and coaches got together and got things straightened out. We got our confidence back (at Bellaire) and we need to continue to build on what we’ve been doing.”
Since the Red Devils played last Thursday, they actually had the opportunity to watch John Glenn live in its finale against Crooksville.
“I see a ton of skill,” McLean said. “When you look at their stats, they spread the ball around.”
The Red Devils also saw John Glenn senior quarterback Evan Williams leave the game early with a tweaked knee. According to Edwards, Williams is “day-to-day.” He’s had the knee surgically repaired twice.
Should Williams, who has passed for 1,417 yards and 16 touchdown, be unable to play, sophomore Brad Morgan will get the call.
“Evan tweaked his knee in week eight (against New Lexington) and then again last week,” Edwards said. “We’ll continue to evaluate his status as the week goes on, but Brad can bring a new element and we have confidence in him.”
Sophomore Noah Wellmeier is the top ground gainer for the Little Muskies. He’s produced 818 yards and scored eight touchdowns this season. Senior Brady Emmerson is also a capable runner, who has accumulated nearly 450 yards and scored 9 touchdowns.
“Noah took over the running back job in week 4 and has not relinquished it,” Edwards noted. “Our running game has definitely improved with him back there.”
John Glenn, which operates out of a spread, has capable targets at receiver. Senior Reece Perkins is the top pass catcher with 48 catches for 647 yards and 7 touchdowns. Hayden Glaub is the second-leading receiver.
“John Glenn is very athletic and does a lot of things that will make you restless at night,” McLean said. “You can’t really key on one or two guys because they spread the ball around so well.”
Seniors Blaze Baker and J.D. German lead a veteran offensive line, which graduate everyone in May.
The Red Devils’ defense features senior Isaac Myers and junior Reese Skaggs at ends, while seniors Corey Naylor and Ja’Von Lyons hold down the defensive tackle spots.
The inside linebackers are junior Will Balgo and senior Derek Witsberger, while senior Noah Trubiano and senior Tyler Brookover are the outside backers.
In the secondary, senior Nate Fusco and junior Austin DaRe are the corners and senior David Taylor is the safety.
“St. Clairsville is multiple on defense and has some big, physical kids,” Edwards said. “Their defensive line is absolutely huge and their linebackers are big, too. Their secondary and outside linebackers run to the ball well.”
When Edwards flips on the film of the Red Devils’ offense, he finds himself immediately looking at their size up front.
“It looks like they like to impose their will and run the ball,” Edwards said.
The Red Devils throw the ball much more than they did a season ago, but Edwards is pretty accurate with his scouting report.
The offensive line features Lyons at at right tackle. Colten Grimm at center, senior Austen Angus at left guard, sophomore Avery Henry at right guard and junior Jalen McCall at left tackle.
Directing the offense is junior quarterback Tyler Tonkovich. As a first-year starter under center, Tonkovich has been solid. He’s thrown for 925 yards and 10 touchdowns. He’s added an additional 409 yards and 9 touchdowns as a runner.
The primary ball carriers are senior Aaron Jordan and his brother, Jacob, who is just a sophomore. Aaron has gained 878 yards and scored 11 touchdowns in just eight games. Jacob, meanwhile, has rushed for 647 yards and 12 touchdowns.
“Both Jacob and Aaron have grown and matured in their own ways as runners,” McLean said. “They have shared the duties very well. They have nothing but love for each other. They’re always supporting each other and cheering for one another.”
Helping to pave the way for the Jordans and Tonkovich is Witsberger at fullback.
When the Red Devils go to the air, Brett Vike is the leading target with 19 receptions for 242 yards and a score. Colin Oberdick has caught 13 passes for a team-best 256 yards and 2 touchdowns.
DaRe also see plenty of action at wide receiver and Skaggs lines up at tight end.
“Our defense is the strength of our team,” Edwards said. “We’re a little undersized, but we have a veteran group. We run to the ball well. We’re allowing just over 10 points a game.”
Senior Dylan Milstead leads the Little Muskies defense with 84 tackles. Emerson is another standout at a linebacker spot, while German is one to watch along the defensive line.
Glaub and Score Perkins are two of the top defensive backs.
Both teams consider the kicking game a strength. Jake Bolyard is the Red Devils’ placekicker. He’s connected on 42 PATs and a field goal. Perkins handled the kicking duties for the Little Muskies. Sophomore Drew Sefsick has been solid for St. C. as a punter, posting an average of 40 yards per boot.