ST. CLAIRSVILLE - St. Clairsville is embarking on its eighth trip to the Ohio football postseason. Of those, five have come under the direction of Brett McLean, including two straight.
However, don't think for a minute the Red Devils' coach takes any of the top-8 finishes within their region for granted.
''We need to get the school, team and community excited,'' McLean said. ''Playoff appearances and success do not grow on trees and could be gone the next minute. If we let it get to that point, it will be the beginning of the end of our success.''
While getting to the postseason is exciting, McLean and company aren't content any longer with just being there. Three of the Red Devils' last four appearances in the tournament haven't stretched past the first round.
''When you get to this point in the season, we realize only one team will end its season with a victory,'' McLean said. ''I really think this region could be anyone's to win. There are some really good teams, so hopefully we can make some noise.''
The Red Devils will play on the friendly carpet of Red Devil Stadium for the third time in the opening round when they host eighth-seeded Chesapeake at 7 p.m.
Chesapeake, which just moved up to Division IV this season, is back in the postseason for the first time since 2004. The Panthers qualified despite losing their season finale to arch-rival Coal Grove Dawson-Bryant.
''(Reaching the playoffs) was definitely one of our goals at the start of the season,'' said Panthers coach Andy Clark, who is in his eighth year at the helm. ''Last week's loss was tough to take, but when you're able to accomplish one of your goals, at the end of the season it's nice for the kids.''
The matchup was a surprise to both coaches. McLean and company had believed they'd be squaring off with Indian Valley this weekend and Clark thought he and the Panthers would be a higher seed if they had taken care of their business in Week 10.
''We'd been talking to Indian Valley about meeting to trade tapes and stuff,'' McLean said. ''The next thing I know, I was on my way to Marietta to meet Coach Clark, so it was definitely a different matchup than we were thinking.''
The Panthers are embarking on their more than 4-hour trip to Belmont County at 11 a.m. Saturday. Clark, who spent most of Monday in meetings with his athletics director about travel arrangements, thinks the trip will be a ''good experience for his team.''
''We're going to take a charter bus and head up Route 7 to Parkersburg and hit I-77 and come up,'' Clark said. ''We'll stop a couple of times so the kids can stretch their legs and get something to eat.''
When the Panthers arrive at Red Devil Stadium, the fact that none of the roster has taken part in a tournament football game won't come into play. At least Clark hopes not.
''We realize this isn't just another game,'' Clark said. ''But, we've got to approach it like it's another game against a quality opponent. We hope our kids will be loose and play hard because at this point, there could be no tomorrow.''
Chesapeake's offense, which scores at a 31.6 points per game clip and averages almost 300 rushing yards, is led by 6-foot-5 senior quarterback Austin McMaster, a standout basketball player who is drawing recruiting interest from West Liberty. He's passed for 748 yards and six touchdowns on 49 of 97 accuracy. He's run for 510 yards on 63 rushes and eight scores.
''The quarterback is a tall, lanky kid,'' McLean noted. ''He's a very capable runner with some wheels to him.''
Seniors Brandon Noble (6-1, 190) and Patrick Hintz (5-7, 160) are the primary ballcarriers. Hintz has run for 747 yards and 12 touchdowns, while Noble has added 643 yards and four scores.
When the Panthers do put the ball in the air, junior Javon Thompson (6-0, 160) leads the way with 17 receptions for 464 yards and four touchdowns. Senior Tommy Noble has caught 14 passes.
Junior quarterback Matt Kinnick has led the St. C. offense with 2,373 yards and 24 touchdowns. He's been picked off 10 times. He's also a capable runner with 434 yards and three scores.
The Red Devils' ground game is led by sophomore speedster Jaylon Brown, who McLean isn't expecting to play this week. His 769 rushing yards, 317 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns will be missed, but Ben Evick has done yeoman's work in stepping in.