State Spotlight: Martins Ferry hosts Union Local in key OVAC AAA game


Martins Ferry hosts Union Local in a key game with plenty of Region 15 computer points on the line

Union Local and Martins Ferry meet Friday with a lot at stake. The unbeaten Jets (4-0) trek to Purple Rider
Stadium to take on the once beaten Purple Riders (3-1) with Buckeye
8 and OVAC AAA titles and Division IV Region 15 computer points all on the line.

Union Local and Martins Ferry meet Friday with a lot at stake.

The unbeaten Jets (4-0) of Union Local trek to Purple Rider Stadium to take on the once beaten Purple Riders (3-1) with Buckeye 8 and OVAC AAA titles and Division IV Region 15 computer points all on the line.

The Jets, better known as the cardiac kids, are coming off their second 21-point comeback of the young season. UL trailed Indian Creek 21-0 a week before running off 33 unanswered for a 33-21 victory. Ferry, on the other hand, had far less problems handling the Linsly (WV) Cadets, 53-7.

Union Local, who is ranked sixth in the latest ONN/Ohio High Power Poll, routed the Purple last year in Morristown, 39-7. The Jets ran two interceptions back and also scored on a kickoff return from the departed Zach Gust.

Wins over Ferry have been few and far between over the years for UL, but this isn’t your uncle’s Jets anymore. The high octane Jet offense is averaging 41.8 points per contest. The offense, under head coach Mark Cisar, is a quick strike, score anywhere on the field style of play.

By now, most have heard of the Jets’ signal caller and that is senior Jordan Barbina. The All-Ohio candidate flat out gets it done. Barbina is coming off a three touchdown passing and two TD running performance a week ago against Indian Creek. The “magician” tossed for 309 yards, ran for 40 (had a 70-yard and 89-yard TD run called back), kicked an extra point, engineered an onside kick, and intercepted a pass on the final play of the game.

For the season, the Jet offensive catalyst has thrown for 1,180 yards completing 57% of his passes good for 12 TDs to just four picks. On the ground, he has churned out 355 yards on just 68 carries including 10 TDs. For the season, Mr. Highlight Reel has accounted for 23 of the 25 Jet scores.

Barbina certainly hasn’t been working alone, and last week was no different. Senior Joby Barr (6’3) emerged in what can be considered a break out evening. Barr caught eight balls for 135 yards including a score. For the year, Barr has 17 receptions for 229 stripes and three six pointers. Brandon Nicholes leads the team with 25 snares for 490 yards and four scores. Nicholes has breakaway speed. Probably the most imposing target is the 6-foot-4 Kyle Blackman. The big tight end has caught 10 passes for 223 (22.3 ypc.) along with four trips to pay dirt. Blackman missed the opener.

Other targets are senior Mark Thompson (10 receptions for 110 yards), sophomore Kyle Copeland (5 snags for 72 yards and a score), and junior David Fisher.

Its counterpart, the Riders, look to run the ball out of its shotgun West Virginia/Michigan style offense. The Purple seem to be gelling after a slow start that led to an opening game to loss to Buckeye Local and just an eight-point victory over Richmond Edison. Martins Ferry earned a hard fought come from behind win two weeks ago over rival Harrison Central in overtime and then followed that up with a thrashing of Linsly. The Riders are certainly playing its best football of the year.

Star senior quarterback Jeremy Murray leads the Rider attack. The 5-foot-8 and 180-pound dynamo is finally getting healthy. Murray has been a key contributor since his freshman year, which is almost unheard of with a freshman playing under head boss Dave Bruney. However, after a dazzling sophomore season, Murray missed most of last season with an ankle injury. The Rider signal caller, who is in his first year at QB, only played a handful of series’ against the Jets a year ago.

Murray has been lights out the last few weeks, completely taking over the Harrison Central game in the second half two weeks ago. He has amassed 592 yards on the ground and eight scores along with throwing for 360 yards and a pair of six pointers.

Senior Rawn Driver, senior Matt Shreve, and junior Pat Allen join Murray in the vaunted Rider rushing game. Driver has accumulated 325 yards and three scores in the first four outings.

Murray’s favorite target has been fellow classmate Clayton Francis, who has hauled in nine balls for 131 stripes and a score.

The Jet defense is allowing 17 points per game, but most of those points have been scored in the first quarter. The Red and White have been outstanding on defense in the second half allowing just 13 points in the final 24 minutes of play and six of those points were in mop up duty in the opener. Credit defensive coordinator Mike Menges for some quality halftime adjustments.

The Red and White stoppers are led by junior linebackers Tyler Arigoni and Kyle Jarrett. The latter collected 19 tackles a week ago including 15 solo stops. Sophomore Tyler Grant has also been a pleasant surprise at linebacker. Seniors Bo Olexo, Eric “Willis” Williams, and Marcellus Stradford anchor the defensive line, while Barbina roams the secondary (three interceptions).

Ferry is only administering 15 points per encounter on the defensive side of the ball. The Rider defense starts with its inside linebacker crew of seniors Shreve and Steve Woodford. Both are imposing figures, can play sideline to sideline, and are three-year starters.

The 6-foot-5 junior Jordan Burress helps anchor the front four, while senior Brandon Leonard and junior Michael Roach patrol the secondary.

Guru’s Thoughts:

As I stated earlier, Union Local has not enjoyed much success over the Riders in the history of this series. However, this isn’t the same old Jets. Union Local didn’t just beat Ferry last year, the Jets beat them up physically which is something Ferry has made a living on over the years. The Riders were not healthy the rest of the year.

Ferry seems to be clicking and hitting on all cylinders on offense, and showing why they were one of the preseason favorites to win the Buckeye 8. Coach Bruney tweaked the offense, and it has taken some time to put together. Not only was the offense changed a little bit, the Riders decided to move Murray to quarterback after spending the previous three years at running back. To me, it was a decision to make sure their best athlete touched the ball on every play (much like Union Local).

Union Local appears to have an advantage with its size at wide receiver against some smaller defensive backs of Ferry. Other than Roach, most of the secondary is under six-foot. Blackman and Barr are both over 6-foot-3, and that may come into play.

Union Local has completed (72) more passes than the Riders have attempted (53).

Speed wise, nobody has been able to match up against the high flying Jets thus far in 2008 but the Riders seem to be one of the few teams that can at least challenge the overall team speed with Murray and Driver.

It’s essential for Union Local to get a fast start. If they get down 21-0 to the Riders, the Jets may find the climb a little steeper than a week ago or in week two. The Purple will try and control the clock with its running game, but they can also hit you with the big play from Murray. Although, the Jets have taken their coach’s attitude and that is “don’t panic, no score is insurmountable with our offense.”

For the Riders to be successful, they can’t fall behind early and rely on the passing game. Murray and last year’s quarterback are very similar in size and have a hard time getting a good view point behind the line. Union Local will try to keep him in the pocket and force him to become a pocket passer much like they did to Edwards a year ago. Last year, UL had two pick six’s.

This should be a great match up in Rider town. Expect quite a few big plays. I’m going to go out on a limb and say at least one ball tonight gets intercepted and ran back for a score, one long run over 60 yards for a touchdown, and possibly even a big play on special teams. Both offenses are very good by doing totally different things. The defense that steps up tonight will win this game.

Ferry turned the ball over entirely too much in the early part of the season, which was a big reason for its struggles. Union Local has taken excellent care of the football, and that is a sign of a three-year veteran at quarterback.

This has the making of being a game of runs, so turnovers and defensive stops are going to be the biggest keys tonight.

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