Martins Ferry leads Buckeye 8 Conference – for now – heading into final stretch


Martins Ferry Purple Riders

Seven weeks are in the book and nothing has been solved in the wild and crazy Buckeye 8. Martins Ferry appears to be in the driver’s seat, but there are five teams within one game of the lead. Now things get interesting.

The Buckeye 8 race is coming down to the final three weeks of play.

Martins Ferry (4-1) 6-1
Union Local (4-1) 6-1
Buckeye Local (4-1) 5-2
St.Clairsville (3-2) 5-2
Harrison Central (2-2) 5-2
Bellaire (1-3) 3-4
Indian Creek (0-4) 2-5
Edison (0-4) 1-6

Seven weeks are in the book and nothing has been solved in the wild and crazy Buckeye 8. Martins Ferry appears to be in the driver’s seat with its victory over Union Local. However, the Riders still have games with St.Clairsville this week and close out 2008 with rival Bellaire.

Union Local still has Buckeye Local (the only team to beat Ferry) and Harrison remaining in back-to-back weeks.

Buckeye Local will play UL this week and winless in the conference Edison next week.

St.Clairsville needs to beat Martins Ferry and Harrison and get help to hold on to its 2007 title.

Harrison will have to beat Creek, UL, and St.Clairsville and get help

Bellaire is hanging by a thread, while Creek and Edison have been eliminated.

This week’s card:

Buckeye Local (5-2) @ Union Local (6-1)

The resurgent Panthers trek to Morristown to take on the once beaten Jets. Buckeye Local’s year turn around is quite a story. Coming off another big win last week in its first ever meeting with Harrison Central, the Panthers will try to keep the magic going against the high powered Jets.

Union Local is (11-1) at home under head coach Mark Cisar with its last loss coming on September 22, 2006 to eventual West Virginia Class A State Champion, Wheeling Central (20-13).

The Jets are (4-2) since the 2002 season against the Panthers, which includes winning the last four.

The Buckeye Local defense, which intercepted Harrison Central’s Ty Kenny four times a week ago and held the high octane Huskies to just 16 points, will have its hands more than full this week with the multi-talented Jordan Barbina.

The fabulous senior quarterback has accounted for 34 TDs (20 passing, 13 rushing, and one fumble return). Through the air, Barbina has connected on 116 of 191 attempts for 1,947 yards. On the ground, the elusive magician has accumulated 553 yards on 107 totes.

The All-Ohio candidate’s top targets are the speed junior Brandon Nicholes (42 catches for 792 yards and seven scores), the rangy 6-foot-4 Kyle Blackman (19 receptions for 420 stripes and seven scores), the athletic 6-foot-3 Joby Barr (26 catches for 388 yards and five six pointers), and the sure-handed Mark Thompson (17 snags for 225 yards and a score).

The defense trying to contain this offense averaging just over 36 points per game is led by stud senior Nathan Schaal. The Panther defensive tackle appears unstoppable at times with his team-leading 14 quarterback sacks. The secondary will be led by junior Bobby Spence. The versatile Spence intercepted four aerials a week ago, while also receiving tow scores. Spence has 10 thefts on the season, which tied former Panther standout Dave Cornish.

The Panther offense has been steadily improving week by week. The quarterback (Joe Rine), a 6-foot-6 project, continues to get better and better. Rine is a nice size kid with a ton of upside especially being a left-hander. Rine’s real talent is on the hardwood, but he decided to give football another try and it has paid off for the Panthers under legendary head man Ron Pobolish. The lefty has thrown nine TDs to just two picks, while amassing 650 yards on just 80 attempts.

The Rayland-based school brings in a physical line along with a stable of bruising running backs. Junior Brandon Bartrug leads the team with 445 yards and four scores, while emerging freshman Josten Dear has racked up 374 yards and three trips to pay dirt. The aforementioned Spence has 284 yards and four six pointers. Senior Kevin Calhoun was the go-to-guy before being injured in week two.

The Red and White defense, which will be looking to stop the vaunted Panther running game will be seniors Marcellus Stradford (team-leading eight sacks) and Eric Williams up front, junior linebackers Tyler Arigoni (team-leading tackler) and Kyle Jarrett, along with Barbina roaming the secondary (team-leading three interceptions).

Guru’s Thoughts:

Can Union Local get its defense off the field with Buckeye’s methodical ball control offense? In order to get its explosive offense on the field, the Jets will need to limit the lengthy 10 to 15 play drives. First down will be key for the Jet defense. If they can put Buckeye in 2nd and long, chance for success is far greater.

If Union Local can jump on Buckeye early and often the Panthers will certainly have a hard time playing catch up. Buckeye’s offense is made to control the game not play from behind. The Panthers will be very uncomfortable if forced to throw more than 20 times.

The lone Union Local loss came by giving Ferry a short field all night with turnovers and long kickoff returns. Coach Pobolish and his Panthers would certainly welcome that kind of play.

The Panthers gave UL fits last season leading 7-6 at half before the Jets ran off 21 unanswered to end the game. The Jets were unable to stop the penetration up the middle from a physical Panther defense. However, they made enough big plays with their speed to blow it open. If UL has a clear advantage it will be in the speed department. Buckeye holding the edge in physicality.

Union Local certainly had trouble stopping Martins Ferry’s running game, but Buckeye’s running game is a little different. The Panthers have more of a bruising running game with a lack of homerun hitters. Ferry has a rare combination of power and speed to the perimeter. UL has enjoyed some success with straight ahead running teams, but the teams able to stretch to the perimeter (Ferry and Creek) has given them problems. The Jets woes with making the initial tackle thus far in 2008 is clearly evident giving up 281 yards after initial contact against the Purple Riders. Troubles were seen again last week against Bellaire.

The Panthers haven’t seen an offense quite like UL’s, so it will be interesting to what their game plan is for Barbina. From what I’ve been reading and hearing, Pobolish has created one.

If Union Local gets a lead watch out the track meet may be on. Buckeye certainly needs to keep the game slow and ugly to have a chance. Playoff points, conference titles, and bragging rights are all on the line. How will the Panthers respond after winning a huge game against Harrison a week ago? How will UL answer after jumping out to a huge lead a week ago only to hold on to victory after a disinterested second half? Friday night will certainly be our answer.

St.Clairsville (5-2) @ Martins Ferry (6-1)

Early season injuries and messing with a new offense caused a slow start for the Purple gang. However, with the return of Matt Shreve and Brandon Leonard and just letting sensational senior Jeremy Murray run wild has led to six consecutive victories.

Martins Ferry trailed 20-7 in week three to Harrison before going into the locker room and deciding to let Murray take over. Good idea! The 5-foot-9 dynamo completely took over and led the Riders to a thrilling 26-20 overtime win despite a valiant effort from the Huskies. From that point, the Purple Power has been lights out.

Coach Dave Bruney’s bunch went back to basic good old Rider football with counters, powers, isolations, and the feared stretch to the tune of 53, 60, 49, and 42 points over the past four weeks. Yes, that 60 was hung on one of the best teams around in Union Local. Statement made!

Many people forgot just how good Murray was after missing most of his junior campaign with an injury. The senior has been nothing short of sparkling with 1,017 yards on the ground including 13 trips to pay dirt on just 125 carries along with throwing for 571 yards including five scores to just three turnovers.

Murray shares carries with fellow seniors Rawn Driver (77 carries for 657 yards and seven scores) and Marquise Bass along with bruising fullback Shreve.

Senior Clay Francis is the leading receiver with 12 catches for 198 stripes and two TDs. Francis’ status is still up in the air after suffering an injury last week.

St.Clairsville will try to counter Ferry’s offense with a mix of run and pass. The Red Devils have the option of starting sophomore quarterback Zach Kinnick or the recently injured senior Adam Shanks.

Kinnick played fairly well last week against Meadowbrook and appears to have a bright future as the Red Devil signal caller, so it will be interesting to see what the Devils do at quarterback. Shanks is a former wide receiver, so that could be a possibility.

The Red Devil running game has been its bread and butter all year with the hard running of senior Brody Call (95 totes for 569 yards and seven scores) and emerging sophomore Tavin Stevenson. The latter will be a star for the Red Devils if he continues to work.

The bright spot in the passing game has been senior Kaz Pata, who has hauled in 19 balls for 419 yards and seven six pointers.

The Riders defense is staunch. Limiting opposing teams with their team speed and strength up front the Riders make it miserable for opposing offenses. Shreve and fellow senior Steve Woodford are dominant at inside linebacker, while Bass, junior Pat Allen, and junior Jordan Burress control the front. Leonard is a menace in the secondary. He is a very smart free safety always seeming to be around the ball, but he can also lower the boom.

The Devils counter with a defense that has been up and down. The Devils have struggled to tackle in the secondary and were given trouble by Meadowbrook’s line a week ago. The Colts’ Josh Quinn ran for 158 yards a week ago breaking a number of tackles. That is an issue that will need cleared up fast if the Devils want to contend Friday night.

Zane Butler leads the Red Devil defense with six sacks.

Guru’s Thoughts:

The Red Devils have only beat Martins Ferry in Rider town twice since 1990 (1990 and 2000). The Devils have won two of the last three meetings, but both were at the Belmont County Fairgrounds. The last meeting in Ferry the Devils endured a long night to the count of 47-7 in a match up of playoff teams.

The Riders circled three games on the schedule to extract revenge from a year ago. Two of those are already complete in Union Local (60-18) and Indian Creek (42-7) with the Red Devils being the final straw.

The Red Devils are a young football team still, so going into Ferry and winning will be a tall task. If the Devils don’t tackle better than last week, Friday night will be a long evening.

Ferry has a lot of firepower, and can score at any time. The Devils will need to keep this game close by playing flawless on defense. I’m not sure the St.Clairsville offense is good enough to match Ferry score for score.

Harrison Central (5-2) @ Indian Creek (2-5)

Guru’s Thoughts:

The Huskies are coming off a tough loss to Buckeye, so how they respond will tell a lot about this team. Harrison is still battling for its playoff lives, while the Creek has been eliminated from any postseason thoughts.

The Redskins have never recovered after squandering a 21-0 lead to Union Local in week four. The Creek hasn’t even been competitive since that week four loss.

Will this season’s match up even come close to last season’s fantastic finish when Robbia Davia ran in a two-point conversion for the Husky triumph.

Creek has nothing to lose, so it will be key for Harrison to put this game away early. If they let the Redskins hang around it might be a spark they desperately need. Harrison can’t afford another loss, so look for a crisp performance for coach Justin Kropka’s bunch.

Bellaire (3-4) @ Edison (1-6)

What is going on in Bellaire? That is the question most have been wondering over the last six days. Bellaire will be down to its third string quarterback and without its leading receiver. How can this team possibly be ready to play after this week of dissention?

Edison got its first win this past week over Barnesville (14-0). The Wildcats have two emerging sophomores in quarterback Johnny Byers and wide receiver Mark Rogers.

The Big Reds are definitely ripe for an upset. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the Wildcats win their second straight.

This will be a true test of Bellaire’s team character. Can they bond together and pull this out. Remember, just two years ago this was one of the most feared teams in Division IV with back-to-back 14-1 seasons in 2005 and 2006.

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