A Fair Game! This is the rallying cry for Union Local’s (2-0) first
home game with St.Clairsville (2-0) in 15 years. The Red Devils trek to Morristown for the “Showdown in Motown” for the first time
since the 1992 season. For the past 15 years the game has been held at the Belmont County Fairgrounds, which is also St. C’s home field.
A Fair Game! This is the rallying cry for Union Local’s (2-0) first home game with St.Clairsville (2-0) in 15 years. The Red Devils will trek to Morristown for the “Showdown in Motown” for the first time since the 1992 season. That night was a Red Devil 28-14 victory.
Since 1993, St.Clairsville and Union Local have played at the Belmont County Fair each season. More so, this happens to be St.Clairsville’s home field. The Devils own a decisive 11-4 record in those years. The last time the game was played in Morristown the seniors in this game were either two or three years old.
The talk surrounding this game has been ongoing since the decision was made to play in Morristown last spring. The smack talk has created quite a stir and many emotions among the two rivaling school districts. Both schools have spoken, and needless to say there will be no love lost in Friday night’s battle of unbeatens.
The Morristown-based school is anticipating a raucous, electric, overflowing crowd with fans expecting to arrive as early as 2:00 p.m. Last year’s Union Local game with Martins Ferry was a statement game on their home field, but this game may be the biggest encounter in school history to be played on the UL home turf for a few reasons.
This is not just a statement game, but a “program” statement game for Coach Mark Cisar and his trusted staff. Union Local is climbing to the top of the mountain in the OVAC AAA, and with last year being the program’s first ever playoff berth a victory over bitter rival St.Clairsville may just be that final piece to the puzzle.
However, this will not be an easy task against a Red Devil team that owns 12 consecutive regular season wins along with reaching last year’s Division IV, Region 15 Final. Coach Brett McLean’s Red Devils lost a very talented group of seniors, but the head St.C boss appears to have reloaded with a solid group of old faces and several new ones.
Union Local was in the same boat losing several talented seniors, but has returned with a legitimate first team All-Ohio candidate at quarterback and several new weapons in the vaunted spread offense.
The match up is a classic offense versus defense battle. The Jets bringing an high octane “O” averaging 53 points per game, while the Red Devil defense is giving up just six and a half points per outing.
The Union Local offense is triggered by the all-everything senior Jordan Barbina. The three-sport standout has twice been runner-up offensive player of the week by JJHuddle.
Barbina is coming off a 172-yard rushing and 246-yard passing game in a 53-21 win over Shenandoah where the signal caller also scored five rushing TDs and threw for two more, while, catching a 30-yard pass and intercepted an aerial. In all, the UL senior has thrown for 618 yards and six TDs along with grounding out 223 stripes and another eight six-pointers.
The fast paced offense uses a plethora of receivers that includes six different targets. Brandon Nicholes, an absolute burner, has been Barbina’s main target thus far hauling in 10 balls for 338 yards including three scores. The big play junior took a 10-yard dump pass a week ago and turned into a 92-yard run away TD.
Barbina also relies heavily on his sure-handed tight end Kyle Blackman. The rangy 6-foot-4 target caught two balls for 71 yards a week ago including a 55-yard score. It was the seniors’ first action of the season. Blackman scored on two aerials a year ago against the Devil “D.”
Also in the mix are seniors the 6-foot-2 Joby Barr (7 catches for 76 yards) and Mark Thompson (four catches for 48 yards), and sophomore Kyle Copeland (5 catches for 72 yards).
The Jet offensive line was a question mark coming into the season and still hasn’t been really been challenged will get all they want with an attacking Red Devil defense. The group is led by seniors Bo Olexo, Eric Williams, and Sonny Keith.
The Devil offense certainly hasn’t been prolific, but at times has shown signs of gelling. Coach McLean was basically replacing the entire offense with the exception of two offensive linemen, a tight end, and wide receiver. The group has shown its youthfulness early with quite a few turnovers in the first two games.
However, the emergence of senior tailback Brody Call has relieved the young Red Devil offense. Call rushed for 190 yards on just 17 carries including a 98-yard explosion to pay dirt a week ago. The hard-nosed senior also chalked up a 40-yard trip to the end zone. Call has amassed 303 yards on the season accounting for three scores.
Look for sophomore Tavin Stevenson to also carry the rock. The talented sophomore carried the ball 10 times for 50 lightings a week ago.
Protecting Shanks and the leading the way for Call and Stevenson are two returnees in juniors Trenton Soukup and Matt Shutek.
The Devils got the big play when they needed it a week ago, but will most likely go the blue collar route for most of the game. The Jets can strike from anywhere on the field, while the Belmont County seat will try to play ball control and use its top notch defense.
The Red Devil offense is led onto the field by senior first-year starter at quarterback in Adam Shanks. The senior has been inconsistent in his first two starts, but look for the talented Shanks to get better and better with each passing game.
When Shanks and the Devils go to the air he has a fine target in senior Kaz Pata. The soft-handed Pata hauled in a 61-yard bomb for six from Shanks a week ago. Pata has eight snags for 134 stripes on the year.
Shanks will also have the option of Call out of the backfield and senior tight end Ryan Jarvie.
On the paper, the edge on defense would lye with the Red Devils. The staunch Devil defense has only been scored on one time in two games.
Seniors Zane Butler (aka the sack master) and Jarvie will be looking to put pressure on Barbina. Tyler Shanks is also a main cog for defensive coordinator Bruce Stiles’ Scarlet and Gray “D”.
One question mark in the early going has been the St.Clairsville secondary, and that will certainly be one thing needing fixed with Union Local’s numerous four and five wide sets.
The Jet defense is giving up 17 points per game, and 21 one of those came in the first six minutes of last week’s game.
Defensive coordinator Mike Menges is trying to find different ways to fill in the huge loss of Carl Perkins at middle linebacker to graduation.
Junior Tyler Arigoni seems to be expecting the challenge quite well. The undersized Arigoni has 26 stops in just two games from his linebacker spot. He is being aided by the return of fellow classmate Kyle Jarrett, who had nine tackles in his first action of the season.
Olexo and Williams get it done up front, while Barbina roams the secondary along with junior Darby Waller.
If there is one clear advantage it’s in the kicking game. The Red Devils are seven-for-seven on extra points by junior Logan Cook. The talented Cook also booted a 42-yard field goal a week ago that may have been good from 52.
Union Local hasn’t found the kicking game to be that easy.
What to look for:
Expect a high energy game with an insane amount of intensity in the early going. Both teams will be stoked in the early going, so look for at least one personal foul in the first or second quarter.
Barbina is trying to complete his first full game against the Red Devils. His sophomore year the signal caller was injured in the first quarter, which eventually became season ending. Last year, Barbina didn’t take over at quarterback until the second half.
Look for the Red Devils to try to establish a ground game early and often. St.Clairsville has used a physical running game to its advantage against Union Local the past two years racking up a ton of yardage and milking a lot of time off the game clock.
The Jets will try and spread the Devil defense out and wear down the 11-man unit with a constant attacking offense. The Jets’ offense can be compared to a full court pressure team in basketball. They just keep coming at you from all different angles.
This is certainly a statement game for the Union Local program and for Barbina to capture the one thing that has eluded him in his football career and that being a victory over his bitter rival.
This is Union Local’s biggest game in school history. Why? This win will once and for all prove to all the doubters that the Union Local program has arrived. Secondly, the Jets have the game on their turf. After all the back-and-forth comments, what would a loss mean for Union Local?
The Red Devils have the swagger of a team that has won 13-straight regular season games, and rightfully so for a program that was doormat when McLean took over. The Devils are 27-5 in their last 32 regular season games including two playoff appearances. A once extremely proud program was just 21-39 from 1996 to 2001. To me, the Red Devils are no longer the hunter but the hunted. They have arrived as one of the top programs in the valley, and Cisar and his bunch would love nothing more than to earn a victory Friday night to get to that point.