Especially in St. Clairsville, 10-0 campaigns haven’t become common place, seeing as the last one came down the pike in 1985.
That’s why Red Devils coach Brett McLean stressed to his players all week to not let the opportunity pass them by.
And his gritty Red Devils responded in a big way, posting a 26-6 victory against the invading Harrison Central Huskies on Friday night.
The perfect season was just one of the achievements put forth by the Red Devils. They also locked up the Buckeye 8 football title — their first — and inched closer to their first OVAC Title since 1990. They officially locked up a playoff spot and the school’s first home playoff game. Finally, by defeating Harrison, St. Clairsville regained the coveted Coal Bucket.
“We’re glad to take advantage of our opportunity and get it done,” McLean said. “There was pressure on the kids to get it done, and they handled it really well like they have all season, but we still have some work to do to make people believe.”
The Red Devils will officially find out who’s coming to town Sunday when the OHSAA announced the Regional Quarterfinal pairings in Region 15. However, many expect either New Lexington, which had scouts in attendance or Ironton Rock Hill to be the Devils’ next opponent.
“I can’t wait to go to work with the coaches and the team and start preparing for another game,” McLean said. “We are going to try to keep this going a while. I am so happy for our kids and coaches. We’ve done this all together, and that’s our motto. I won’t take anyone and put them on a pedestal because it’s been a team effort the entire season.”
While McLean and the Red Devils will arrive at the field house this morning to begin breaking down tapes, Harrison Central coach Justin Kropka bid farewell to his team and seniors for the final time.
“We didn’t play perfect football (Friday night), but we didn’t play that bad either,” Kropka said. “It’s always hard to say your goodbyes to your seniors at the end. Obviously, you want to end on a win, but it doesn’t always happen.”
From the outset, it was obvious the St. Clairsville defense was on its game.
After Harrison got a first down on its initial drive, the Huskies moved the chains just twice more in the half and three more times in the game. All told, the St. Clairsville first unit allowed 61 yards.
“They were very, very good up front and we knew that coming in,” Kropka said. “They were the better team (Friday) evening, and there’s a reason why they are ranked in the state. Give all of the credit to Coach McLean and his players.”
With the Red Devils’ defense doing its thing again, the Red Devils’ offense got it cranked up behind the same trio of players that’s been doing it all season: quarterback Anthony Vincent, tailback Kurtis Cullen and senior all-purpose back Dustin Hynes.
They combined to scored all four Red Devils touchdowns and combined for 214 yards rushing. Vincent added 74 passing yards with 54 of those going to Hynes.
“I think we had to prove that we could play in the mud,” McLean said. “I had to listen to it all week whether or not we could do it and it really kind of agitated me, and to be honest I wish it had rained harder.”
One of those early touchdowns was a real back-breaker. The Huskies defense had stuffed the Devils on three straight plays in Harrison territory. On the fourth-down play, Vincent dropped back, avoided a rush and found Hynes in the back of the end zone for a 27-yard strike.
The Devils added another score with 7:52 to go in the first half when Hynes took a hand off and raced 15 yards to the end zone for the score.
They took the second-half kickoff and went 11 straight ground plays before Cullen capped the drive with a 4-yard plunge.
The Huskies raced the ensuing kickoff back to the Devils’ 5, via Wes Skinner’s 85-yard return. Skinner scored the lone Harrison Central points when he took a handoff and raced 85 yards. However, the Devila defense rose up again. It stuffed the Huskies four straight times and on the fourth-down try, Devils’ defensive back Kaz Pata came out of the pile with the ball.
“I have written our kids a letter every week and at the end of the letter I write, ‘Never quit,’ McLean said. “When your back’s to the wall, you have to fight out of it. We could have quit at Steubenville Catholic and we could have down there at the 1-yard line, but our kids battled again. I think that game would have gotten interesting if they had punched that one in, but our defense stamped out any chance of that.”