Martins Ferry, Wheeling Central Back on Track

Two teams to play first game of four-year deal

MARTINS FERRY — There was a time when some started to write off both Martins Ferry and Wheeling Central as it pertained to a possible playoff berth.

After all, the Purple Riders opened the season with losses in three of their first four and the Maroon Knights began 0-2 and had plenty of tough games to go.

Fast forwarding to the present, both teams have righted their respective ships and are each coming off a cherished victory. However, something has to give Friday night when the Knights invade the Dave Bruney Football Complex Friday night.

Central (3-3) is coming off a hard-earned victory against Shadyside, while the Purple Riders went on the road and rallied from a 10-point deficit to defeat Indian Creek.

“That was a huge win for us,” Central coach Mike Young said of the game against the Tigers. “For our kids, program and everyone involved, it was just huge. We’ve spent a lot of time working hard trying to get better and we still have a ways to go. We have to get ready for another big challenge.”

For the Purple Riders, the name of the game has been taking care of the football. They were victimized by turnovers in their losses, especially against Linsly and Union Local. They didn’t turn it over against the Redskins last week.

“When we take care of the ball and limit our penalties, like any team, we have a great chance to win,” Martins Ferry coach Dave Bruney said. “I am also proud of how our kids have bought into the one-week-at-a-time mentality. We were able to do that at Indian Creek when in the second half we played as hard as we could, took care of the ball and good things happened. The kids are really practicing hard and it’s good to see it work out in their favor.”

Friday night is the first meeting of a recently signed four-year contract, which will see each of the tradition-laden programs hosting twice over of the course of the deal.

“If I didn’t think this was a good game for both schools and for football in the Ohio Valley, we wouldn’t be playing it,” Bruney said. “Mike and I have been friends for more than 45 years and we’ll absolutely be friends after this game.”

It’s the first meeting between the Purple Riders and Maroon Knights since 2010 when Central prevailed, 10-7.

“This is one of those games where there’s a lot of local interest,” Young said. “Obviously, it’s two programs that are rich in tradition and history who are right across the river from each other. I really think it’s going to be a knock-down, drag-out kind of game and I know both fanbases will be fired up.”

When Young and his staff began preparing for the Purple Riders earlier this week, like so many, senior running back Dalton Hoover is a focal point. However, the Maroon Knights do not want to solely focus on him.

“Hoover is definitely a force for them, but they have other variables we need to lock in on, too,” Young said. “They’re throwing the ball better and they’re spreading it around. Their line and defense are also two big factors.”

Hoover has accumulated 849 yards and scored 13 touchdowns rushing. He caught the game-winning TD pass last week. Sophomore quarterback Jake Probst has continued to evolve. He’s completed 51 of 112 passes for 720 yards. Senior Cory Bennett is the Riders’ leading receiver with 22 catches for 222 yards.

Wheeling Central, meanwhile, is led by sophomore quarterback Curtis McGhee III. He’s coming off a 199-yard, three-touchdown passing performance against Shadyside. He’s also the Knights’ leading rusher. Bray Price is the team’s home run hitter. He scored three times last week all of which came on plays measuring 25 yards or more.

Dawson Wear is a formidable option at running back and Anthony Robbins is Central’s leading receiver.

“This is a typical Mike Young-coached team,” Bruney said. “They’re good fundamentally and they play good defense. They have an ability to score from anywhere on the field because they have really good speed.”