Union Local looking to avenge 60-18 setback to Martins Ferry in Week 5


Martins Ferry and Union Local hook up in a rematch from Week 5 that the Purple Riders dominated.

Martins Ferry and Union Local are set to square off in a rematch from Week 5, but this time it’s in the Division IV, Region 15 semifinal. The
Riders used seven Jet turnovers and great field position in routing the
Red and White the first time out, 60-18.

Martins Ferry and Union Local are set to square off in a rematch from
Week 5, but this time it’s in the Division IV, Region 15 semifinal. The
Riders used seven Jet turnovers and great field position in routing the
Red and White the first time out, 60-18.

However, that was then and this is now. Both teams have certainly improved over the past seven weeks, which is a big reason why neither teams has lost over that time span. Both teams have matching 10-1 records. The Riders only loss came in Week 1 to Buckeye Local, 21-14.

The Week 12 showdown will take place at Steubenville’s Harding Stadium on Reno Field. The two teams have actually played each other on this field once before, and it wasn’t a playoff game. In 2004, the Riders and Jets met at Harding Stadium on a Sunday afternoon due to the flood that struck the Ohio Valley. The Riders were 40-0 winners en route to a 13-1 season.

So how can a team that lost (60-18) in its first meeting even begin to think they have chance to win this second encounter? They don’t have a chance, correct? Wrong! As stated before, both teams have improved. But, in reality, its not the improvement that could make this is a different but rather the way game one played out. Things just seemingly snowballed and when that happens everything goes right for one squad and nothing right for the other.

The Riders have gelled on the offensive and defensive lines, which has really put them over the top. After all, the Purple and White knew it would have a stable of skilled players coming into the season.

Union Local gave up 387 yards on the ground in the first meeting with 229 of those yards coming in the first half, and continued to have some trouble tackling for the next couple weeks. Coach Dave Bruney’s bunch racked up 246 yards after initial contact (YAC yards) against the Red and White defense.

The Jets began to show signs of coming together in the tackling department in a huge week eight contest against Buckeye Local and its power running attack. Head Coach Mark Cisar’s squad began bending, but didn’t break. The Morristown-based squad came out victorious by the count of 34-21. The following week UL would once again face a stiff challenge with the physical running game of Harrison Central. The Jets won 27-8 and didn’t allow a 100-yard back in doing so. From that game on, the defense has been lights out.

The first meeting saw Martins Ferry dominate field position and certainly win the turnover battle. Union Local was guilty of seven turnovers, while the Riders stayed clear of any mishaps. Ferry’s average starting field position was around the Jet 45-yard line, while Martins Ferry’s excellent kick coverage pinned UL inside its own 30 for the majority of the night. Needless to say, it was a long night.

The Purple’s all-time leading rusher quarterback Jeremy Murray enjoyed a fine evening, rushing for 146 yards on just 19 carries and a TD. Classmate Rawn Driver toted the rock 12 times for 132 stripes for two TDs and also scored on a seven-yard pass on fourth down.

Senior Matt Shreve scored twice via the ground and Marquis Bass also crossed the goal line.

The Riders jumped out to a 46-12 lead at half by scoring 28 points in the second quarter and never looked back.

The opening drive of the second half saw senior Brandon Leonard intercept a Jordan Barbina pass and race it 85 yards for a score, which ended the senior quarterback’s night.

Although, it did seem the fans were in for a shoot out after UL answered Ferry’s opening drive TD with a quick strike 76-yard pass play from Barbina to junior Brandon Nicholes on its first offensive play. Fans quickly found out the only shoot out was the powder coming out of the cannon each time Bruney’s troops entered the end zone.

For Union Local, the amazing Jordan Barbina was held to a season-low 173 yards on 12-of-19 passing including two scores and two thefts. However, in a very wise move by Cisar, Barbina was removed from the game after the opening possession of the third quarter with the Red and White trailing, 53-12. There was no sense in losing a player Barbina’s caliber in a game that was not within reach.

Nicholes finished with four catches for 98 infantry stripes and a score. Senior Kyle Blackman hauled in three balls for 34 yards, senior Joby Barr landed five passes for 76 yards and a TD, while senior Mark Thompson also caught a ball.

Sophomore Kyle Copeland performed admirably in back up duty at quarterback completing 6-of-9 aerials for 94 yards including a score and a pick. In all, the Jets threw for 267 yards on 18-of-28 passing good for three scores and three picks.

How did the two teams arrive?

Ferry, supporting its one-loss record, defeated eight-seed Columbus Bishop Hartley (20-6) in Rider Land. Murray, who just surpassed Rider and Ohio University legend Chad Brinker as the all-time leading rusher in school history, gained 131 yards and scored once in the victory over Hartley.

Murray has amassed 1,790 yards on the year via 211 attempts including 24 rushing TDs. The senior signal caller has also tossed five scores and thrown for 843 yards.

Driver has racked up 787 infantry stripes on just 103 totes. The Rider tailback has eight rushing TDs along with one receiving.

Seniors Matt Shreve and Marquis Bass are both bruising backs who lead the way, but every now and again get a bone thrown their way.

The offensive line has grown leaps and bounds throughout the course of 2008. Seniors Steve Woodford, Jared Hanson, Dan Rhodes, and Courtney Henry join junior Dalton Leach to lead the way for the vaunted Rider rushing attack.

Senior Clay Francis is the Riders leading pass catcher with 306 yards on 18 snags including two six pointers. Juniors Jordan Burress and Josh Nagel both have seven receptions.

The Rider offense is averaging 34.5 points per game with season highs of 60, 53, 49, 42, and 41.

For Union Local, as always, it’s start with “Babs” Barbina. The senior has developed a laundry list of accomplishments not only this season, but for his entire career. Barbina has recently been listed in ESPN’s RISE as the Midwest football player of the week for his performance against St.Clairsville. The magician is also listed by MaxPreps.com as second in the country in total offense (3,977 yards) and 10th in passing with (3,056 stripes). He trails only Michael Sapp of Trinity Christian (William Park, TX) in total offense.

Last week, in a rematch with St.Clairsville, Barbina completed 25-of-36 passes for 287 yards including three scores and two picks in a 26-6 triumph. On the ground, number 12 rushed 22 times for 78 yards and a trip to pay dirt.

Barbina, with the four TDs last week, landed himself in the 50 touchdown club. The savvy signal caller has 30 TD tosses, 19 rushing scores, and a scoop and score on a fumble.

For the year, the potential first-team All-Ohioan has amassed 3,056 yards in the air and 921 stripes on the ground.

His reliable targets are junior Brandon Nicholes, and seniors Kyle Blackman, Joby Barr, and Mark Thompson, along with sophomore Kyle Copeland.

Blackman hauled in five balls for 116 yards and a score last week, while accumulating 738 yards on 34 catches (21.7 ypc.) including 10 TDs for the year.

UL’s leading pass catcher is Nicholes with 72 catches for 1,150 accounting for 11 trips to pay dirt.

Barr, who hauled in two touchdowns a week ago, has 52 pass receptions for 670 stripes and eight scores. Thompson, more of a possession receiver, owns 30 balls for 342 yards and a score. Copeland, another viable option, has 153 yards on 14 receptions.

The pass blocking line includes seniors Sonny Keith and Bo Olexo, junior John Williams, and sophomores Amos Leach and Tyler Grant.

Cisar’s high-flying Jets average 33.7 points per outing.

The two offensive units can certainly put up points, but inevitably the game will most likely come down to the defense that gets some stops and creates for the offense. Obviously, the Riders won that battle handily in round one. The Purple “D” is an opportunistic unit, which was certainly the case the first time around.

The Riders 11-man defensive crew, who is allowing just 11.5 points per game, is led up front by ends Bass and senior Shayne Saunders with Burress and fellow junior Dalton Leach on the interior. Bass and Saunders will once again be asked to keep Barbina in the pocket to funnel him into the heart of the Rider defense. Check successful under this column in week five.

The inside backers are Shreve and Woodford, while the outside crew is Francis and Cody McGee. Shreve is one of the best around.

The secondary will be giving up quite a bit of height at corner with Murray and Nagel, which could be an advantage for the taller Jet receivers. Murray intercepted Barbina the first time around, while Nagel sat the game out due to injury. The safety is the hard-hitting Leonard, who may be the most valuable player on the defense.

The Jets, who struggled mightily to tackle the first time around, has certainly sowed up their issues. Defensive coordinator Mike Menges’ defensive stoppers are led up front by Olexo and senior Eric Williams with senior Marcellus Stradford and junior Erik Neilson at the tackles. Stradford has a team-leading 12 sacks.

Juniors Tyler Arigoni and Kyle Jarret are the teams leading tacklers. The former recorded 14 stops a week ago, and owns 170 tackles and seven sacks on the year. Jarrett has 142 stops for the season. Grant is the other linebacker.

The secondary is spear-headed by Barbina with his five interceptions. Juniors Darby Walller and Davis Fisher join Nicholes to round out the secondary.

The Red and White are issuing 17.9 lightings per contest.

Guru’s Thoughts:

Many thoughts come to mind when analyzing this game, but the bottom line is can UL match Ferry’s physicality and intensity this time around? The Union Local defense can’t consistently give up five or six yards on first down and put the Purple in a comfort zone on second and third down. Ferry can throw when the run is able to set it up, but can they convert if forced to second and third and long or if they get behind? Union Local has done a wonderful job of jumping out to early leads since the Ferry game to force teams out of their comfort zones.

Check out the following numbers: In week six, UL jumped out to a 40-0 lead at halftime against Edison, the following week the Red and White pulled ahead 28-7 at half against Bellaire, week eight saw Cisar’s crew soar out to a 21-0 first quarter advantage against Buckeye Local, in week nine it was Harrison Central falling behind 14-0 early to the Jets, week 10 against Barnesville was never in doubt, and the opening round of the playoff UL flew out to a 19-0 intermission advantage verse St.Clairsville.

It’s plain and simple, Union Local loves playing with the lead. When they jump on a team early, it’s really difficult to come back on them.

Union Local certainly moved the ball in the initial meeting, but continued to kill itself with costly turnovers in turn giving the Riders exceptional field position. All of the fumbles took place after a big gainer. Remember, there is just something mental about playing the game in the other team’s territory especially when a team gives Ferry’s power running game a short field. It almost feels like you are playing down hill. When you are in your own territory it feels like moving up a hill, while passing the 50 puts a team in the comfort zone as if you were coasting down a slope. Make sense? As poorly as UL played, Ferry played equally as magnificent.

The game started very poorly for the Red and White as Leonard returned the opening kick off back to the UL 30-yard line. Murray and company would eventually punch in for six. However, UL would strike right back but gave its defense no time to recover after scoring so quickly. The ensuing kickoff would once again put the Riders in good shape. From that point on, Bruney’s boys played in UL territory while the Jets spent most of the time inside their own 30. Kickoff coverage for Ferry was top notch.

So how did this Purple defense limit Barbina to his lowest passing and completion total of the year, meanwhile holding the entire offense to its lowest point total of the season? Well, for starters, the youngster only played one half and the opening possession of the second 24 minutes so his numbers would have been pretty close to par had he finished the night. With that being said, the Riders produced a quality defensive scheme. Defensive coordinator Bill Bruney, who won a state title at Steubenville in 1984, disguised things very well and kept Barbina guessing and on the run all evening.

Martins Ferry had no one as fast as “Babs,” but the ends had adequate enough speed to keep him inside the tackles so the interior could use its strength to bull rush the Jet line and apply pressure. When he did get out of the pocket, Ferry did a sensational job of forcing him to the sideline virtually making him run out of room to operate. Again, it was a combination of Ferry’s overall team speed on defense. No one on the field was as fast as him, but enough kids with good speed were there to contain him.

Union Local came into the game as the perceived favorite, but both crowds quickly found out that was a misnomer. Ferry out hit, out hustled, and just plain out muscled a shell-shocked Union Local outfit. The Riders were dialed in from start to finish and were not going to be denied on that night. It seemed like a years worth of frustrations were taken out on that particular evening.

For Union Local, using its offense as its defense will be essential. The Jets have been sustaining longer drives over the past few weeks, which will be crucial this week. Barbina has matured greatly over the past three years, and the thing I see him improving on most has been throwing more short passes instead of constantly trying to hit the homerun. Don’t get me wrong, that is certainly still in the repertoire with his play making ability, but it’s not a necessity anymore. Barbina reminds a lot of former Bellaire standout quarterback Ty Masciarelli. I can’t recall a quarterback that threw the ball short any better than Masciarelli. The former Bellaire star made a lot of plays with his feet as well allowing his receivers to get open much like JB. Barbina makes scrambling into a fine art work.

Personally, I believe this game will be much different than the first outing. As always, it will come down to who protects the football, who wins the battle of field position, and who executes what they do best. For the Riders it will be to keep doing what they have been doing, and for UL to continue to tackle well and be proficient in its passing attack.

Will Ferry dominate the trenches? Does Cisar have something up his sleeve? Those questions will be answered in less than 24 hours, but one thing we know for sure is the atmosphere will be electric atmosphere inside Harding Stadium.

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