MARTINS FERRY — The COVID-plagued 2020 season was a rollercoaster ride for Martins Ferry. The Purple Riders were up one week and down the next.
However, Chas Yoder’s squad did qualify for the Division V, Region 17 playoffs. The Purple gang won its first round encounter with Jefferson Area, 36-21, but fell to Sandy Valley, 35-20, in the second round.
Graduation took a big chunk out of the roster as 11 seniors picked up diplomas. They were Logan Smith, Jack Weir, Chase Goff, Trevor Hanson, Evan Carpenter, William Bailer, Alex Bennett, Cole Sztary, Noah Duck, Preston Thaman and Ryan Meeker. Carpenter, an all-Ohioan, is playing collegiately at the University of Findlay. Goff is playing baseball at Wheeling University.
Carpenter was a two-time Eastern District Defensive Player of the Year, as well as a two-time Division V all-Ohioan first teamer. He ran for 717 yards and 13 touchdowns on 100 carries, while also catching seven passes for 166 stripes and a TD.
Coach Chas Yoder on the upcoming campaign
“We lost some quality seniors from last season, but the kids have been working very hard in preparation for the upcoming season,” Yoder, who is 18-13 in three seasons at his alma mater, said.
Depth could be a problem for the Purple Riders and their rugged schedule as only three dozen players are suited up for this season.
“It doesn’t help. I don’t know what you’re going to do,” Yoder said of the lack of bodies. “We’ll play with the guys we’ve got. Those are the guys that want to be here. We’ll deal with what we’ve got.”
The good news is that Martins Ferry has 14 returning lettermen to work with. The bad news, none of them are quarterbacks.
“We have some depth, especially on the offensive and defensive lines,” Yoder pointed out. “Some of those guys have started two or three years for us.”
The former Mount Union gridder was referring to the senior trio of Zeke Bruney (5-11, 270), Zak Dobson (5-11, 220) and Peyton Hores (6-0, 245). Dobson is the center, with Bruney at a guard and Hores at a tackle.
“They have seen a lot of playing time in their three seasons,” Yoder noted. “We’re going to rely on them. That’s going to be our strength.”
Senior Jesse Nagel (6-2, 260) is ticketed for the other tackle spot, while juniors Matt Collette (6-0, 245) and Alex Finsley (5-11, 220) are battling for the other guard slot.
“Jesse has put on some good weight. He’s got a big frame and has really has a good camp and two-a-days,” Yoder said.
Other linemen candidates are junior tackle Laine Baker (6-2, 255), junior center Ethan Horvath (5-10, 215); sophomore tackle Travis Trout (5-8, 270); and freshman center Haiden Merrill (5-0, 130), freshman guard Edward Arigoni (5-8, 150) and freshman tackle James Woolfork (6-0, 265).
As mentioned earlier, the quarterback position is in a youth movement as sophomore Baron Lucey (5-8, 145) and freshman Ayden Ludolph (5-9, 170) are locked in stiff competition for the starting spot.
“They are both young, but they are both really good athletes,” Yoder stressed. “They are both pretty equal right now. It might come down to both of them getting playing time in our scrimmages to see if one stands out above the other.”
According to the head coach, the duo has similar traits.
“They are both good runners, as well as good passers,” he said.
What will help the young quarterbacks, in addition to the three veteran linemen, is a pair of quality running backs in senior Colton Larkins (6-2, 220) and junior George Hulsey (5-9, 165). Both have earned multiple letters.
Also in the mix are senior Quamari Locke (5-6, 155); junior Jackson Carte (5-11, 160); sophomore Kaden Archer (5-7, 150); and freshmen Jase Mahoney (5-6, 125) and Kymante Whitlatch (5-9, 165).
The senior wide receivers are led by speedy Colton Redinger (5-6, 160), lanky Jaizen Miles (6-4, 195) and the athletic duo Davian Ray (5-9, 160) and Kolton Goddard (5-9, 150).
“Both Colton and Jaizen saw quality time last year, so we’re counting on them to lead the younger guys along,” Yoder said. “Davian and Kolton are those type of kids that do whatever you ask of them.”
Juniors Dylan Ward (5-8, 135), Matthew Fox (6-2, 155) and Landon Hores (6-2, 190) should also see playing time, according to the head coach. Lucey can also split out when not at quarterback.
Other wide receiver possibilities are juniors Mason Caniff (5-11, 150) and Dominick Shrodes (5-9, 145); and freshmen Tev’n Williams (5-11, 170) and Alden Miller (5-7, 115).
The tight ends will be senior J.T. Hill (6-1, 175); junior John McFarland (5-11, 175); and freshman Alexander Reese (6-4, 200).
Defensively, the Purple Riders will continue to lineup in their traditional 4-3 look.
“We’ve replaced some guys at linebacker and in the secondary, but our defensive line is intact,” Yoder said.
The ends are Dobson and Larkins, with McFarland, Finsley, Collette, Horvath, Arigoni, Merrill and Reese also listed there.
Bruney, Peyton Hores and Nagel are alternating at the tackles. Baker, Trout and Woolfork are in the wings.
Hulsey will man the middle ‘backer spot, while Landon Hores and Hill are on the outside. Also set for playing time are Locke, Carte, Archer, Mahoney and Woolfork.
The corners will rotate between Redinger, Miles and Ray. Shrodes, Williams, Miller and Ludolph will also see action.
Manning the safeties are Larkins and Lucey, with Goddard, Ward, Fox and Caniff waiting their chances.
Special teams is an area where the Purple Riders had some problems last season, both on kickoffs and extra points.
Only one new team is on the schedule this fall. Cambridge, a newcomer to the Buckeye 8 South this season, replaces long-time rival Harrison Central, which was bumped to the Buckeye 8 North.
“They are pretty good year after year,” Yoder said of the Bobcats, who were 5-5 last season with a first-round Division IV, Region 15 playoff victory over Linden McKinley.
“We play a tough schedule, but that makes every game fun,” Yoder added.
The Purple Riders coaching staff remains intact with the exception of Chuck Haggerty replacing John Bennett as the wide receivers/defensive secondary coach. Returning are offensive coordinator Anthony Reasbeck, Gregg Bahen, Nick Stankovich, Taylor Yoder, Greg Ware and Greg Kumse.
Martins Ferry treks south on Ohio 7 to meet Shadyside on the artificial surface at Fleming Field on Friday, Aug. 20. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
Zeke Bruney, Zac Dobson, Kolton Goddard, J.T. Hill, Peyton Hores, Colton Larkins, Quamari Locke, Jaizen Miles, Jesse Nagel, Davian Ray, Colton Redinger
Laine Baker, Mason Caniff, Jackson Carte, Matthew Collette, Alex Finsley, Matthew Fox, Ethan Horvath, George Hulsey, Landon Hores, Johnny McFarland, Domenick Shrodes, Dylan Ward
Kaden Archer, Baron Lucey, Travis Trout
Edward Arigoni, Ayden Ludolph, Jase Mahoney, Halden Merrill, Alden Miller, Alexander Reese, Kymante Whitlatch, Tev’n Williams, James Woolfork