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The 118th Edition of Ferry-Bellaire Set for Saturday

Photo by Kristin Mazgaj Bellaire running back Joey Lewis tries to break free of a tackle by River’s Austin Creamer (3) and Brody Lollathin (8) during Thursday’s game in Hannibal.

BELLAIRE — To many, Sportsmanship, Participation, Achievement, Rivalry, Knowledge and Youth are just words.

To those from Bellaire or Martins Ferry, those are much more than just words.

Combine those words into an acronym SPARKY and you’ve got the crux of what the long-standing football series between the Big Reds and Purple Riders is built upon.

SPARKY will be presented Saturday afternoon to the winner of the 118th edition of the Big Reds and Purple Riders, which will take place at Nelson Field. Kickoff is scheduled for noon.

“This game means everything,” Bellaire head coach Mark Spigarelli said. “This is the one you’re remembered for. The winner has bragging rights for basically the rest of their life.”

Indeed.

The Big Reds lead the all-time series, 56-54 and there have been seven ties. SPARKY has remained in the trophy case at Martins Ferry High School since 2017. Last season, the teams had been eliminated from the playoffs and were still able to play and the Riders prevailed, 47-8.

“This is the biggest game of the year,” Ferry head coach Chas Yoder said. “The tradition that surrounds this game is what makes it great. Anyone who has been a part of this game as either a player or a coach gets excited. Bringing SPARKY home means a lot to both communities.”

As for Saturday’s matchup, the Big Reds appear to be the favorite on paper, but Spigarelli and Yoder have both been a part of enough of these games to know that nothing that’s happened the previous nine weeks matters.

“Throw the records out the window,” Spigarelli said. “This game is like the first game of the year and both teams are 0-0. We know Martins Ferry is going to come down ready to play and do all they can to win the game.”

The Big Reds come into the game at 8-1 and have sewn up a berth in the Division V, Region 17 playoff field, starting on Oct. 30.

Meanwhile, the Purple Riders have limped to a 1-8 mark and are trying to avoid their worst season record since going winless in 1970. The Purple Riders last finished 1-9 in 1965.

“Obviously, our season hasn’t been what we hoped for,” Yoder said. “We’re doing all we can to get the kids ready for this game and try to send our seniors out with a win. It doesn’t take a lot of motivation to get the kids ready for a game like this.”

While the Riders are finishing up their season, the Big Reds have a lot to play for beyond SPARKY and those aforementioned bragging rights. Bellaire can clinch the OVAC 3A title and a home game next week with a win. It’s holding out hope for a top four seed, which would mean a possible two games at Nelson Field in the tournament.

“All of our focus is on Martins Ferry because they have nothing to lose and we know they’ll play their butts off,” Spigarelli stressed. “We truly believe we’re in for a battle.”

The Big Reds are coming off a hard-earned 14-0 victory against Union Local, which followed a 13-12 nail biter against Shadyside. The Riders, meanwhile, have dropped their last two outings by a combined score of 96-24. All told, Ferry has lost four-in-a-row since defeating Weir on Sept. 17.

Bellaire is led by a fairly balanced offense that leans more toward the running game.

Junior quarterback Jake Heatherington triggers the offense. He’s thrown for 1,009 yards and seven touchdowns this season, but is coming off just a 1 of 7 for 17 yards performance last week. He’s also ran for nearly 300 yards and five touchdowns.

The leading ground gainer is junior Brayden Roth, who has rushed 116 times for 703 yards and six touchdowns.

Senior Colt Sechrest is the unquestioned all-around leader for the Big Reds on both sides of the ball. He’s accumulated 603 yards of offense with 316 coming on the ground. He’s scored nine offensive touchdowns.

Junior Ray Ray Pettigrew and senior Jakob Dowling are also big-play threats for the Big Reds.

“Bellaire is definitely one of the best teams on our schedule,” Yoder confessed. “They run and throw the ball effectively. We have to prevent allowing the big plays from their explosive players.”

On the other sideline, the Riders have struggled offensively at times. Other than in their win against Weir, Ferry has eclipsed the 20-point barrier just once.

The Big Reds defense has been a strength all season. It continues to force turnovers at an impressive rat. All told, Bellaire has forced 27 turnovers, including 18 interceptions. Of those, seven were ran back for a touchdown.

“Ferry is a senior-oriented group, especially up front,” Spigarelli said. “They have some dangerous, elusive kids. We have to tackle well and play physical.”

The Riders offense is directed by freshman quarterback Ayden Ludolph, who has experienced some growing pains at times. He’s thrown for 597 yards and three touchdowns, but has been victimized by 10 interceptions.

Junior George Hulsey is the leading rusher with 581 yards and seven touchdowns on 143 carries. Of his yardage, however, 503 yards came in the first half of the season.

Colton Redinger and Baron Lucey are viable options as both runners and pass catchers.

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