Union Local waited 15 seasons to entertain bitter rival St.
Clairsville on its home turf in Morristown, and after Sunday’s
OHSAA playoff pairings were
unveiled the Jets will host the Red Devils for a second time in eight
weeks. Union Local was a 28-14 winner in the Week 3 “Showdown in Motown.” Round 2 is Friday.
Union Local (9-1) waited 15 seasons to entertain bitter rival St. Clairsville (7-3) on its home turf in Morristown, and after Sunday’s Ohio High School Athletic Association official playoff pairings were unveiled the Jets will host the Red Devils for a second time in eight weeks. The Red and White were (28-14) victors in the Week 3 “Showdown in Motown.”
After the Week 3 encounter, the two teams took very different paths to Week 11. The Jets would win six of their next seven games, while the Red Devils still reeling, would lose the following week to arch rival Bellaire and again in week eight to rival Martins Ferry.
The inexperienced Red and Grey had its ups and downs with several key injuries and growing pains; while head coach Mark Cisar’s bunch stayed relatively injury free. However, Union Local wasn’t exactly the most experienced crew coming into the 2008 season with the exception of its all-everything quarterback, a couple skilled guys, and one offensive lineman. Cisar had to replace eight offensive and seven defensive starters off a (9-2) playoff squad. Their counter parts, coming off a (12-1) campaign, were replacing six starters on offense and six on defense.
After the Week 3 match up, the Jets took their high-wire act to Wintersville to take on Buckeye 8 Conference foe, Indian Creek. Union Local fell behind 21-0 in the first quarter only to score the final 33 points of the contest. However, the Morristown-based school was not as lucky the following week as they trekked to Martins Ferry to take on a Rider squad that was now healthy and clicking on all cylinders. Cisar’s bunch turned the ball over six times en route to a 60-18 drubbing.
The boys in red and white bounced back with five straight convincing wins to round out the season along the way defeating Division III playoff participant Buckeye Local (34-21) and rival Harrison Central (27-8) in back-to-back weeks.
The Jets were once again undefeated at home for the second consecutive season. UL is now (13-1) under Cisar at the Hanger with their only loss coming to Wheeling Central (20-13) in 2006.
Meanwhile, St.Clairsville found things a little rough after losing in Week 3. The Red Devils hosted a team (Bellaire) that had handled them 16 of their last 17 meetings. However, the Red and Grey jumped out to a 14-3 halftime lead before an uninspiring second 24 minutes of play left the Devils with a 22-14 setback.
At (2-2), things looked bleak with the likes of Weir, Martins Ferry, and Harrison Central left on the schedule. Most had the Devils wrote off, but they found a way to win five of their next six to move all the way up to the number five seed in Division IV, Region 15. The only setback was a miserable night at Martins Ferry where the Devils were 34-6 losers in a game quarterback Adam Shanks and running back Brody Call were both dismissed via injury. Head coach Brett McLean’s crew was held to less than 100 yards of total offense.
That was all then and this is now. We have two teams trying to earn a spot in the regional semi-final. The atmosphere will be electric even more so than the initial meeting. Fans from both squads are already squawking over seats and what time the gates will be open.
Quite frankly these teams just flat out don’t like each other. Some may be friends off the field, but this game will bring out fierce competition not only on the field but amongst the fans around the neighboring communities. One doesn’t have to look any further than the JJHuddle message board to see what this game means to both communities.
In the last meeting, Union Local’s All-Ohio candidate at quarterback (Jordan Barbina) completely took the game over both offensively and defensively. “The Magician” tossed three TD passes, scooped up a fumble and scored, and iced the game by intercepting a Shanks pass as the Red Devils were driving in Jet territory.
The UL signal caller made countless plays with his feet allowing him to get outside the pocket and break containment. He was able to scramble for a lot of big yards in key down and distances, while also allowing his dangerous receivers extra time to get down the field.
On the year, Barbina’s dazzling numbers include 2,769 passing yards completing 60% of his attempts and 27 TDs to just 11 interceptions. Is he one dimensional, not hardly, one-fourth of the “Killer Bees” leads the teams with 843 yards and 18 trips to pay dirt. Add one more TD to his total for scooping a fumble and returning it for a score (46 in all).
So, who are the recipients of all this magic? It starts with the other three-fourths of the “Killer Bees.” Junior speedster Brandon Nicholes, 6-foot-4 senior Kyle Blackman, and 6-foot-3 senior Joby Barr are all legitimate play makers. Throw in sure-handed senior Mark Thompson and sophomore Kyle Copeland and the Jets have a stable of options.
Nicholes led the team with 65 receptions for 1,088 yards including a school-record 11 TDs. Blackman hauled in 29 balls for 622 stripes adding nine scores. Blackman’s yard per catch was an astounding 21.4. Barr was next with 617 receiving yards on 46 snags, which was good for six trips to the end zone. Thompson was next with 26 catches for 294 stripes and one score, while Copeland landed 11 pigskins for 145 yards.
For the season, the Red and White averaged 34.6 points per outing and twice scored over 50 points. They have also rallied from a 21-0 deficit twice in ten games.
The St.Clairsville offense has been hit by injuries throughout the year, so stability has been a little bit of an issue. Senior quarterback Adam Shanks has been in and out of the line up with injuries leading sophomore Zach Kinnick to step in and assume the duties. The latter performed quite well in his time as starter.
Shanks tossed for 670 yards on 53-of-99 passing good for eight TDs and eight interceptions. His understudy completed 17-of-29 balls for 383 stripes including four scores and three interceptions.
The Red Devils’ main receiving target has been the soft-handed senior Kaz Pata, who has snagged 19 balls for 418 yards and seven scores. Classmate Ryan Jarvie is second with 15 receptions for 238 yards and a trip to pay dirt.
However, St.Clairsville’s bread and butter lie within its running game. Senior Brody Calls has racked up 928 yards on 147 carries good for 13 scores. Not too bad for a kid that is in his first year as fulltime tailback. Call went over the 100-yard mark in the first contest.
Call has been aided by emerging sophomore Tavin Stevenson. The ultra-talented Stevenson has 316 yards on just 59 carries and a pair of six pointers. Shanks has also been effective on the ground with 307 yards and five scores.
Both Call and Stevenson are reliable out of the backfield. The former has two scores via the pass, while the latter scored once.
The Red and Grey are averaging 24.7 points per outing.
Each defense has enjoyed highs, while also enduring some lows. Union Local struggled with tackling for about the first seven games, but since week eight has been lights out. For much of the year, it has been the bend but don’t break unit.
The Red Devils, on the other hand, have been a mystery to me on defense. The defensive backs have struggled for much of the season, but that was to be expected with loss of Dustin Hynes and Anthony Vincent to graduation.
Certain nights they have struggled against the run (Josh Quinn of Meadowbrook- 158 yards and three scores). Martins Ferry was also very successful running the football on St. C just like they were against UL. Other nights St.Clairsville has been very good on “D.” This is definitely a tell tale sign of young squad.
The Red Devils are led on defense by senior Zane Butler with his seven sacks, while junior Brandon Mistak and Jarvie have three a piece.
Junior Matt Shutek and Call are also standouts on the defensive side of the ball along with Tyler Shanks and Kaz Pata.
Jarvie, Call, Seth Callarick, and senior Jeff Fisher are all tied for the team lead with three thefts.
The Devil “D” is allowing 16.2 points per night.
The Red and White defense is led by middle linebacker Tyler Arigoni and his 95 solo stops and 61 assists. The 150-pounder also has five fumble recoveries (one for a TD) and seven sacks.
He is joined by fellow junior linebacker Kyle Jarrett with his 75 stops, 57 assists, and four sacks. Sophomore Tyler Grant, is the other linebacker, and he finished the regular season with 50 solo stops, 25 assists, and four sacks.
Seniors Bo Olexo, the hard-hitting Eric Williams, and Marcellus Stradford join junior Erik Neilson up front. Williams has 48 solo stops with three sacks, while Stradford leads the squad with 12 sacks. The latter owned the sack that gave UL a 16-14 lead in the initial meeting, by sacking Shanks in the end zone. Some may say it was the play of the game.
The Jet secondary is patrolled by Barbina (five interceptions), junior Darby Waller, Nicholes, and junior Luke Tacosik.
The Jet defense is giving up 19.1 points a contest.
The Red Devils have excellent special teams in kicker Logan Cook (30 PATs and 1 FG) and Jarvie with a 36.5 average as the punter. Jarvie pinned Harrison inside the two-yard line last week to seal the victory over Harrison Central.
UL’s kicking game has gotten better as the season went on. Barbina has come on as the place kicker knocking down 13 extra points, while Barr has assumed the punting duties (31 yard per kick).
This game is a very intriguing first round match up, obviously, but for several reasons. St.Clairsville and Union Local have never played twice in one season to my knowledge. Union Local traveled three and a half hours last season to play its opening round playoff game against Waverly. Now that is a home field advantage. The Red Devils will hop on and cruise the yellow cheese wagon over to Morristown for a maximum 10-minute trip. They don’t have to change the routine at all. It’s just another away game.
Both teams know each other very well from playing each other, living so close together, having coaches on each staff graduating from the other school, and scouting other Buckeye 8 teams. Both teams, I’m certain, have seen each other on tape almost every game. Therefore, this game will undoubtedly come down to the team that goes out and makes plays and doesn’t shoot itself in the foot with turnovers. Which teams’ playmakers will rise to the occasion? Neither team will be fooled.
For Union Local, it would have definitely been a huge advantage to play a team that was unfamiliar to its spread offense. Hence, Bellaire’s playoff success over the years due to its ability to throw the football. Bellaire has hammered teams in the playoffs when other good Ohio Valley schools have struggled against those teams. Having the ability to throw the football as well as UL does is such an advantage. For one, you are never out of a game with the ability to throw. Secondly, penalties don’t hurt as much. The Jets were able to gain 55 yards on a third down and 45 earlier in the year. When trailing at the end of the game, for a running team, it seems a little disoriented. The one issue has been struggling inside the 10-yard line to score. Much like Missouri in college football, UL doesn’t have too many short yardage packages.
The key for St.Clairsville is to establish its running game early. If they aren’t able to do so, it may be a long evening. It appeared they were too predictable in the first meeting on offense. Mainly run, run, and then pass on third down. The question has to be, can they score enough points to win this game? UL has only been held under 28 points one time the whole year, and that was a six turnover disaster at Martins Ferry. The Red Devils only average around 25 points per contest on offense.
I felt St.Clairsville had a good game plan defensively in the first meeting, but there is one thing an opposing team can’t account for and that is Barbina’s ability to get away from the rush and break the defense down much like a top notch point guard in basketball. In basketball, when a team has a great point guard that can break the defense down it’s a nightmare for the opponent. It’s exactly the same thing the UL quarterback does on the football field.
In the last two meetings, between the two teams, UL’s Blackman as been the x-factor. The 6-foot-4 target has four scores in the last two meetings with 115 yards on just five receptions in the week three encounter. He has been a match up nightmare for a much smaller Red Devil defensive backfield.
One other factor that can’t be seen on paper is the will to win and intensity. The Red Devils are playing real well right now and will certainly come to Morristown with a winning attitude and the will to win. Coach McLean’s squad wants this game badly. On the other hand, the Jets at times look unbeatable at home. It’s just something about playing in Morristown that brings the best out in them. They have taken Cisar’s attitude and swagger and it’s a perfect fit with the Jet field leader (Barbina).
The Red Devil defense will come after Barbina, and the game is going to come down to the following fact and this fact alone. If the Red Devils are able to get to him and bring him down with the initial contact, then they have a good chance. If Barbina proves to be the best athlete on the field once again and slip away from would-be tacklers, then it will be much of the same. What is that? Barbina will be making plays with his quick feet, letting his receivers get open, and delivering the football which equals a lot of points.
Suggestion, to all fans coming to Morristown, get there early (real early). This game will have all the intensity and crowd craziness that one can handle, and that is what small town high school football is all about. This one is for bragging rights for the rest of the year no matter what happens in the weeks to come.
Regardless of the outcome, both teams have earned incredible seasons for what they had returning. That is certainly a credit to both coaching staffs and both teams appear ready to reload for next year.