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Football Lookahead: Streaking Teams Meet in Bellaire for SPARKY

October 31, 2013
By SETH STASKEY , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

Saying there's a lot on the line in this year's Bellaire vs. Martins Ferry game might be the understatement of the season.

Outside of an actual berth in the postseason, everything else that teams play for will be at stake when the Purple Riders visit Nelson Field to take on the arch-rival Big Reds at 12:30 p.m. Saturday.

While you can talk about home playoff games in Week 11, the OVAC championship and the Buckeye 8 title, the respective teams want to win simply for the sake of who their opponent is.

Article Photos

Spencer Badia and the Big Reds face rival Martins Ferry.

"To me, it's the game itself and all that other stuff is fringe," Martins Ferry coach Dave Bruney said. "We want to win because it's the Bellaire game and I am sure they want to win because it's the Martins Ferry game."

For the second straight season, the meeting for SPARKY features a pair of red-hot football teams. The Purple Riders have won five in a row and the Big Reds have posted six straight victories.

"As a competitor, you can't ask for a better situation to be in," Bellaire coach Jose Davis said. "The implications, playoff scenarios and conference titles are great, but this game carries the weight it does because of the mutual respect between the communities and the amount of pride and tradition each school has."

The Purple Riders and Big Reds are the respective leaders in the OVAC Class 4A and 3A title hunts. A Bellaire victory gives it the outright Buckeye 8 title and most likely a home playoff game in Week 11. The Purple Riders have already wrapped up a home game next week, but could get at least a share of the league title.

"I am glad both teams have secured a playoff spot," Bruney said. "That's a great thing for both communities. Before the playoffs, this game was kind of what there was and both communities looked forward to that, and I think they certainly still do."

The Big Reds and Purple Riders have had plenty of success and, in the process, have proved there's certainly more than one way to approach the game.

Bellaire features a wide-open, spread attack, while the Purple Riders use a bevy of backs behind a strong, powerful offensive line that likes to run downhill and control the clock.

The Big Reds, who prevailed last year in overtime, 34-28, and lead the all-time series with the Purple Riders, 52-47-7, are led by talented senior quarterback Spencer Badia. Last week, he became the third quarterback in Ohio Valley history to surpass the 7,000-yard mark.

Thus far, Badia has passed for 1,955 yards and 27 touchdowns.

He has a plethora of targets to utilize in the passing game, including senior Nick Patrone (36-649-10td), senior Kenny Hess (32-494-5td), senior Brendon Ross (26-373-7td), junior Hunter Westlake (22-208-3td) and senior Tyler West (16-218-1td).

The Big Reds offense has been greatly enhanced with the presence of a strong running game the last several weeks. Junior Brandon Laughman has been impressive, accumulating 497 yards and two touchdowns on 67 rushes in four games.

Westlake and West are also viable options in the ground game.

"We're going to have to tackle well in space," Bruney said. "Plus, we have to stop the run and limit the yards after the catch. Saying it and doing it can be two different things."

The Purple Riders, meanwhile, will try to control the clock and use their strong downhill running attack that features a multitude of options in the backfield.

"They have a good group of skill guys," Davis said. "They're big and powerful up front. They're just sound in everything they do. We're going to have to man up and be ready to play physical. We got away from that a little bit last week (against Union Local), so we need to get back to the grind. Our offensive and defensive lines will have to play well for us."

The Riders running attack, which accounts for nearly 300 yards a game, is led by sophomore Arjay Burress, who has developed into the Riders' home-run hitter. He's gained 965 yards and scored 10 touchdowns on 96 carries.

Senior Marcus Sutton has been steady with 586 yards and five touchdowns on 93 carries. Hard-nosed fullback Bruce Burger has scored 10 touchdowns and ran for 413 yards.

Quarterback Brian Styles has been solid both as a runner and passer. He's gained 468 yards and scored five touchdowns on 69 carries. Through the air, he's passed for 257 yards and two touchdowns.

His top receivers are Jake Barritt (16-167), senior tight end Robert Vargo (13-201-td) and Jake Fitch (6-197-2td).

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