For the first time in a handful of years, Martins Ferry and St. Clairsville are clashing much earlier in the season than they've become accustomed as Buckeye 8 League play begins this weekend.
This game has moved around on the schedule, but the last few seasons has been in the Week 9 slot.
"We used to play St. Clairsville later in the season," Ferry coach Dave Bruney said. "I kind of like it better this way because I was never real crazy about playing St. Clairsville and Bellaire back-to-back. It works out better when your rivalry games are spread out and it's more exciting for the kids."
Jack Fitch and the Purple Riders play host to St. C.
The Purple Riders and Red Devils don't need much fuel added to the fire, but the storylines are plentiful for Friday's meetin' of unbeatens at the Dave Bruney Football Complex.
"It's different being this early in the year, but this league has been in existence long enough to know what to expect," said St. C. coach Brett McLean. "We know there will be a lot of buildup for this game, so I just hope we handle it well."
Along with it being a rivalry and league game, it's also a battle between two of top teams in the OVAC Class 4A standings and OHSAA Division V, Region 17 rankings.
"All of the games are important," Bruney said. "You're only guaranteed 10 of these, so it doesn't make a difference if it's league play or not, they're all big games because of the preparation both the coaches and players put in for these."
St. Clairsville has posted victories against Claymont and Renaissance Christian Academy and breezed past Whitney Young in week 2.
"We're ecstatic about where we are," McLean said. "We knew we had a true test to start the season (in Claymont) with some young players. I knew we'd have our hands full last week, too. It's good that we had to play four full quarters, knowing what the Buckeye 8 has in store."
The Red Devils cruised past Martins Ferry last season in St. Clairsville, but the series in Martins Ferry has been owned by the Purple Riders. All told, St. Clairsville hasn't won at Purple Rider Stadium since 2000 and prior to that it was 1990.
"I don't know how to explain that," Bruney said. "I'm not sure there's much to it other than the normal home-field advantage. The field's the same size at both schools."
The Purple Riders have earned their first three victories this season. They've prevailed against Allderdice, Wickliffe and Linsly. They were 28-21 winners last week.
They've been getting the job done with a myriad of offensive weapons and an impressive ground game.
"Their offense looks matured," McLean said. "Their strength is up front and they've got a lot of kids they can give the ball to. On defense, they're very capable. They're physical and they move to the ball well. Plus, they're long, which poses problems. They're always sound in what they do and never hurt themselves."
Ferry's offense is triggered by senior Eric Flowers. He's thrown for 337 yards and two touchdowns this season. He's also ran for 120 yards.
The Riders' leading rusher is Marcus Sutton with 390 yards and four touchdowns. Fullback Bruce Burger has gained 178 yards and scored four times. Arjay Burress has 134 yards rushing and senior speedster Brian Styles is a weapon in both the running and passing game.
Senior tight end Robert Vargo is enjoying a fine campaign. He leads the Riders with six catches. Jake Barritt and Jack Fitch are big-play threats in the passing game.
"We're happy with where we're at, especially with how much resiliency we've shown," Bruney said. "We've been able to handle the games as they've unfolded and not let negative things bother us."
The Red Devils' offense, meanwhile, has become run-oriented, averaging nearly 240 yards a game on the ground.
Senior tailback Jaylon Brown leads the way with 412 yards and seven touchdowns on 55 carries. Senior Michael Ferns has gained 118 yards on 20 carries and scored a touchdown.
Junior quarterback Michael Monteroso has completed 15 of 30 passes for 301 yards and two touchdowns. He's been picked off three times.
Junior Malik Gummer and Ferns have become Monteroso's top targets. Both have five catches.
"St. Clairsville is very efficient with the things they're doing offensively," Bruney said. "They're kind of like us that they've been in some four-quarter battles and had to show some resiliency. They definitely have big-play capability. Defensively, they played very well. They really run to the ball well."