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Football Lookahead: Resilient Riders Take on Wheelersburg

November 14, 2013
By KIM NORTH , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

MARTINS FERRY - It's no secret that the further a team advances in the postseason, the tougher the competition gets.

That's the position Martins Ferry finds itself in after dispatching Westfall in the opening round of the Division V, Region 17 playoffs last week at the Dave Bruney Complex.

The Purple Riders (10-1), the No. 2 seed in the region, will meet third-seeded Wheelersburg (10-1) Saturday night in the Columbus suburb of Hamilton Township for the right to play for the regional championship. The game will kickoff at 7 on the artificial surface at Alumni Stadium. The winner will meet the survivor of the other semifinal between top-seeded Columbus Bishop Hartley (10-1) and No. 5 Baltimore Liberty Union (9-2) the following weekend.

The Pirates, who finished fifth in the final Associated Press poll, are making their 25th playoff appearance which ties them for seventh all-time in the Buckeye State. They are 22-23 overall and won a state championship in 1989, but are seeking their first regional final since 2004. Martins Ferry was eighth in the final AP rankings and is making its 12th playoff appearance. The Purple Riders are 8-11 all-time in playoff encounters.

"We 're happy with the way our kids are playing," Martins Ferry coach Dave Bruney said. "They are playing with no quit in them.

"This group is very mature. They play the entire game and don't let the highs bother them and they don't let the lows get to them. You wish you wouldn't get behind, but that happens in football. They play for 48 minutes and always think they have a chance."

Senior quarterback Brian Styles has been Martins Ferry's sparkplug of late, rushing for more than 100 yards in each of the last three games. He has 722 yards rushing and has reached the end zone eight times.

Sophomore Arjay Burress is the Purple Riders' leading rusher with 1,060 yards and 10 touchdowns on 111 carries. However, he only had two carries for four yards last week after being dinged up early on. Senior Marcus Sutton has 100 carries for 631 yards and six touchdowns. Bruce Burger has added 433 yards and a team-best 11 TDs on 63 carries.

Styles has also shined as a passer, completing 29 of 51 passes (57 percent) for 425 yards and three touchdowns.

"He's our playmaker, but sometimes because he's an athlete he tries to make plays that aren't there," Bruney said. "But he has done a very good job."

When he takes to the air, Styles usually looks for the sure-handed Jake Barritt, who has a team-leading 29 catches for 209 yards and a touchdown. Against Westfall, Barritt landed a career-high nine receptions for 84 yards. He is also dangerous as a punt returner and has one runback to the for a score.

The Pirates like to spread the defense out with their high-tempo offense, similar to Bellaire, but with bigger weapons.

"They like to get those two wideouts in open space," Bruney said. "They try to do somethings like we do, a little, by taking advantage of their strengths. They like to run the bubble screens and utilize the short passes.

"We've got tackle well in space and try to limit their gains after the catch. Most of the yardage has come after the catch. If we can do those things and control the football, we've got an opportunity."

The Pirates quarterback is Eddie Miller III, who has accounted for nearly 3,500 yards of total offense this season. The 6-2, 185-pound senior has completed 166 of 255 passes (65.1 percent) for 2,387 yards and 28 touchdowns, as compared to eight interceptions. He has run for 1,090 and 17 touchdowns on 130 carries.

"He's the grandson of an ex-Wheelersburg head coach," Bruney said of Eddie Miller III. "He's an excellent player. He does a great job of running their offense."

In fact, Miller's grandfather, Eddie Miller, is the winningest coach in Wheelersburg history with a 173-29-2 (84.8 percent) record.

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