MARTINS FERRY - Often times, how a team regroups and rebounds from its first setback speaks volumes for the type of squad it is.
Martins Ferry passed its first post-loss test with flying colors inside the Dave Bruney Football Complex Friday night.
Using their vaunted running game and an opportunistic defense, the Purple Riders (4-1) ran by invading Harrison Central (2-3) for a convincing 42-14 victory, allowing for a happy Homecoming.
Martins Ferry’s Bruce Burger (31) clears his way past Harrison Central’s Nate Olmstead (21) during their game Friday night.
"It's really great to get this win," Purple Riders coach Dave Bruney said. "It's great for our seniors and all of our kids."
The Riders, who lost to St. Clairsville last week, don't have that one go-to-guy on offense. Bruney and his offensive staff have a bevy of options and they've utilized all of them in the first half of the season.
That was something that Harrison Central coach Justin Kropka cautioned his team about all week.
Earlier in the season, big games have come from Marcus Sutton, Bruce Burger or Brian Styles. All three were factors again Friday, but it was Arjay Burress' chance to be the workhorse.
He responded just the way Bruney thought he would.
"(It) was Arjay's night," Bruney said. "That didn't happen without great offensive line play and without great fullback play by Bruce Burger and Bryce Coleman."
Burress got his hands on the ball 15 times, and he scored on three of those carries on plays of 53, 39 and 73 yards. All told, he finished with 256 yards. For good measure, he was also perfect on all six of his PAT kicks.
"Arjay's a strong kid, has great balance and good feet," Bruney said. "We're tickled to death and fortunate to have the stable of backs that we have."
On those touchdown runs, Burress showed speed and power. He broke several would-be Huskies' tacklers en route to paydirt.
"The downside of the defense we're going with right now is that you have to make tackles," Kropka said. "If you don't tackle (well), they'll make you pay. For the most part, I thought we tackled pretty well, but a few plays here and there and that's all it takes against a good team."
The Purple Riders owned a 21-7 lead at halftime. They scored on a 10-yard run by Burger and then answered a David Miser-to-Nate Olmstead 72-yard pitch and catch with the first Burress score. Then Styles, who shifted to quarterback this week, scampered around the left end from 5 yards out.
Harrison Central made it 21-14 when Miser found Dalton Rutter for a 16-yard touchdown.
The Huskies' scoring drive utilized 91 seconds of the third quarter despite it taking 11 plays.
That was evidently the wake-up call the Riders' needed because they seemingly cranked it up several notches from that point.
"We challenged our offensive line to step up this week and they did a heck of a job," Bruney said of Luke Straub, Nick Bain, Brian Sadosky, Cody Beavers, Mark Douglas and tight end Robert Vargo. "They certainly did, and I thought Brian Styles, who is an electric player, did a great job of running our offense."
The Purple Riders didn't throw a pass in the second half.
Burress capped the drive to answer the Huskies' touchdown. After a quick three-and-out, Burress did the work himself on a one-play march.
"They made a couple of nice offensive adjustments," Kropka said. "We changed a scheme back, but we were getting cut off at certain points up front. They did a couple of nice things scheme-wise and their kids took advantage of it."
Capitalizing on the Riders' fifth takeaway, which was an interception by Straub, Ferry capped its scoring when Styles carried out a fake and went in untouched from 2 yards out.
The Huskies' ground game was basically non-existent. Travis Stenson, who was injured last week, gave it a go but didn't have much success.
"We thought if we could get a little bit of pressure and get close to him, we'd have a chance to force some turnovers," Bruney said. "I'll say this, 'he's got a short memory because he throws it in there.' He's a good quarterback and I know they were a little shorthanded."
Miser completed 13 of 36 passes for 229 yards. He threw the two touchdowns, but he was picked off four times. On top of Straub, Ferry defensive backs Jack Fitch, Styles and Andrew Watts all pilfered passes.
"We knew we were kind of limited (offensively)," Kropka said. "We knew coming in we'd have to throw the ball. A couple of times we had chances, but we dropped the ball. That'll happen with young kids. The stats aren't going to look like it, but I thought David Miser played one of his best games."
Olmstead caught five passes for 135 yards. Rutter made six receptions for 73 yards.
Complementing Burress carrying the ball for the Riders was Sutton (12-69) and Styles (14-59).