Purple Riders overcome mistakes to top Panthers

RAYLAND – Three lost fumbles, overthrown passes, a couple drops sounds like a nightmare season opener, but when you are a playoff team that returns a sleuth of returning veterans and your coach is one of the best in the area, those mistakes seem to take care of themselves.

Bolstered by a 181-yard rushing effort by Arjay Burress and a defense that limited Buckeye Local to just 72 yards of total offense, Martins Ferry opened the 2014 season with an impressive 36-0 win on the Panthers grass at Memorial Stadium Friday night.

With another win putting another notch on his belt, veteran coach Dave Bruney saw his Purple Riders open the new season with an explosive offense and a hard-hitting defense that is likely to return the Riders to the post-season. They are back in action on Tuesday making the long trip to the Cleveland area to take on Wickliffe.

Buckeye Local, under third-year coach Phil Pest, is back in action on Friday traveling to Morristown to take on Union Local in a 7:30 p.m. kickoff.

“We’ve got to take care of the ball,” Bruney said after the win. “That’s something we didn’t do in any of our scrimmages. We missed a few receivers and had a couple balls dropped, but I think we played very well.”

“Not taking anything away from Buckeye Local, but I know they have a lot of young players,” the Rider coach said. “You have to give them credit, they played very hard.”

“I thought our defense played very well and it was good to see them get a touchdown. I’m happy that the kids kept their poise,” he added. “I think this team can to nothing but get better. “Neither team was very impressive in their first two possessions and it wasn’t until Jack Fitch picked off a Panther pass with 5:53 on the first quarter clock, did the Riders get their first real opportunity to get on the board. After the INT and possession at the 21, the Riders went to their ace with Burress carrying three straight times with the final 15 yards covered to the endzone at the 4:35 mark. Matt Barbour booted the PAT for a 7-0 lead.

It wasn’t until midway through the second frame that Ferry was able to increase its lead. Getting big gainers of eight yards by Andrew Watts, 23 by Burress and 16 by Bruce Burger, QB James Edwards capped the drive with a 10-yard scoring pass to Jake Barritt at the 6:54 mark. Damion Beall blocked the PAT as the Riders led by 13-0 in the first half.

In the third quarter, Ferry put together a 59-yard drive on its first possession. Burger exploded off right tackle for 37 yards and five plays later Burress scored from the three. Bryce Coleman ran for the two-pointer and a 21-0 lead with 9:08 on the clock.

Sparked by a 53-yard run by Burress, stopped at the one by a Devon Margues tackle, the Riders got on the board again just before the end of the third. Coleman ran in from the one with 59 seconds on the board. Edwards passed to Fitch for the two-pointer.

Ferry closed the scoring with 1:32 left in the contest when Lucas Agnew picked off a Buckeye pass and ran 25 yards for the score. Burress booted the PAT.

Despite being shutout, the Panthers did recover three Rider fumbles, one each by Tristan Jones, Dylan Dokes and Brandon Panepucci.

“First of all, Martins Ferry is a very good football team,” Panther coach Pest said after the game. “They are a veteran team with 24 seniors, a very nice line. I thought our kids played very well for three quarters. They played very hard and they made some big plays that stopped them.”

“The good thing, we came out of the game with very few injuries, these kids have a great attitude and they play very hard. I’m proud of their effort.”

“We’re young, but now we have something to work on. We’ll regroup and get ready for Union Local next week.”

Burress closed with 181 yards on 19 carries while Burger finished with 89 yards on nine totes.