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St. Clairsville overcomes a slow start to cruise past Martins Ferry

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — For the first 13 minutes of Friday’s game against Martins Ferry, St. Clairsville had exactly zero first downs, a pair of three-and-outs and was staring up at a 6-0 deficit.

It’s amazing how quickly the tide can turn.

The Red Devils — the state’s top-ranked Division IV team — kicked into overdrive from that point on and cruised a 27-6 victory for their fourth straight win to open the season.

“We were frustrated early and we needed a spark,” St. Clairsville head coach Brett McLean said of the opening quarter.

The spark came in the form of senior quarterback Tyler Tonkovich, who returned to the lineup for the first time since suffering a leg injury at Wheeling Park. His presence was felt, too.

With the Riders seemingly having all sorts of early momentum thanks to their defense and the hard running of senior running back Evan Carpenter, who scored the lone Rider touchdown of the game on an 8-yard run, Tonkovich and the rest of his offensive mates went to work.

St. Clairsville went on a 10-play, 74-yard drive that was capped by a 5-yard run by Logan Shields. Jake Bolyard’s PAT put the Red Devils on top, 7-6. Tonkovich passed for 55 yards on the drive.

The Red Devils found something in the passing game. Tonkovich only completed 40 percent of his passes (8-of-20), but he had some big hits in the passing game, finishing with 223 yards through the air.

Tonkovich spread the wealth, too. His biggest home-run threat was once again Colin Oberdick. The junior caught just two passes, but one was for an 87-yard touchdown, which pushed the Red Devils’ lead to 14-6 at halftime.

Senior Austin DaRe caught four passes for 66 yards. Shields hauled in two for 61, including a 57 yarder that saw him avoid two, would-be Rider tacklers and take off down the sideline. That set up a 1-yard plunge from junior Jacob Jordan.

“We try to do what’s best for us in the given moment and (Friday) that was throwing the ball,” McLean said. “There’s no doubt we were stale (offensively) for a stretch, so we went to it. We’re starting to throw more, and it opens things up, but we still didn’t run the ball as effectively as we would like.”

While the Red Devils are sitting at 4-0 as they head into a two-game road trip, starting Thursday at Indian Creek, to close the pre-OHSAA tourney season, the Purple Riders are headed back to the drawing board to get ready for a trip to Harrison.

“St. Clairsville is a good football team … period,” Ferry head coach Chas Yoder said. “We had an opportunity to make plays and we didn’t. They made the plays, so we’ll have to look at it on film and re-group to see what exactly happened.”

While the Red Devils offense got it going from the second quarter on, the St. C. defense was up to the task all evening.

It limited the Purple Riders to 210 yards of total offense, including just 108 on the ground.

“Our defense was outstanding,” McLean said. “Coach (Ben) Frye, Coach (Chris) Balog and Coach (Stephen) Hicks, Coach (Vern) Ridgeway did an outstanding job. We had our backs to the wall a couple of times and we didn’t give up scores, we forced turnovers and scored points on defense, so I give a ton of credit to them.”

The Red Devils forced two turnovers, including a 40-yard pick six that capped the scoring by DaRe in the early portion of the fourth quarter.

“We got a ton of kids on the field tonight from all (grade) levels, which I am excited about because we’ve not had that many opportunities to do that,” McLean said.

The Riders received 56 yards rushing from Carpenter and hard-nosed senior Chase Goff rushed 15 times for 54 yards.

“We had a couple of mistakes, coverage checks and we just got beat,” Yoder said. “We had some (defensive) breakdowns and they capitalized when they had the opportunity.”

Prior to kickoff, Ariel Ott selected the red rose to earn the 2020 Homecoming Queen crown.

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