Strong second half sparks Purple Riders

MARTINS FERRY – Talk about a turn around.

After being outscored, outgained and kept off the field offensively for almost 20 minutes in the first half Friday night, Martins Ferry head coach Dave Bruney had a simple solution for his team’s woes – get the ball.

The Purple Riders did just that in the final 24 minutes and rallied for a 36-26 triumph against fellow Division V foe Wickliffe on Friday night at the Dave Bruney Football Complex behind Marcus Sutton’s 212 yards rushing and two TDs.

”This was big because of the way our kids responded to the challenge against a big, physical football team that wanted to run the ball at us,” Bruney said in a raucous Ferry locker room.

Yes, the Blue Devils from Lake County wanted to run the ball at the Purple Riders (2-0). But, at the same time, they wanted to keep Ferry’s playmakers off the field. And, they accomplished that during the first half.

Ferry only ran one offensive play in the first quarter and finished with 16 in the first half. In contrast, Wickliffe (1-1) had the ball for 19:22, racking up 189 yards of offense on 35 plays in building a 13-7 lead at the break.

The lone Ferry score in the first half came on a 90-yard interception return by Jack Fitch that thwarted Wickliffe’s opening drive.

”What they did was by design,” Bruney explained. ”They wanted to shorten the game and limit opportunities.”

The Blue Devils’ plan was executed behind the 1-2 running punch of speedy tailback Brandon O’Hara and bruising fullback Tiontay Phillips. All told, the tandem carried the ball 30 times in the first half – 85 percent of Wickliffe’s plays.

”We just thought at halftime, ‘Look, we can toughen up on defense and get a couple of stops and they won’t be able to stop us,’ Bruney said.

”And, that’s essentially what happened in the second half.”

Ferry wasted little time, taking the opening kickoff and driving 82-yards for its first offensive score, a 4-yard run by Sutton. The second of Arjay Burress’ PATs gave Ferry a 14-13 lead.

Sutton had 41 yards on the drive, including the final 37. Another big play was a 22-yard hook up on third down between quarterback Eric Flowers and Fitch.

The Blue Devils punted for only the second time on its next possession, giving Ferry the ball back at its own 39.

Three plays later, however, Wickliffe’s Tim Zdesar tipped a Flowers’ pass, picked it off and returned the ball to the Ferry 6. Three plays later, O’Hara had his third, and final TD of the night. The conversion failed and the score remained 19-14.

From there, the Purple Riders scored 22 straight points on TD runs of 23, 10 and 1 yard by Sutton, Bruce Burger and Bryce Coleman, respectively.

To put it simply, Ferry gave Wickliffe a taste of its own medicine.

”We have a lot of good backs,” Bruney noted. ”They all can contribute. And if they all keep working hard they’ll all get an opportunity.”

O’Hara and Phillips were held to 18 yards on 10 carries on the second half, with the longest run six yards.

”I’m pleased with the progress we made between Week 1 and Week 2,” Bruney said, noting the number of underclassmen on the field.

Ferry continues its five-game homestand to begin the season next Friday night against Linsly. Kickoff is 7 p.m.

”Hopefully, we grew up some (Friday night),” he said. ”We have to play a lot of good teams down the road and we’ll have to improve each week in order to have an opportunity to stay competitive.”

Thorp can be reached at