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Riders must slow Ironton ground game

MARTINS FERRY – Dave Bruney wouldn’t make a very good secret agent.

Wednesday, November 01, 2000

MARTINS FERRY – Dave Bruney wouldn’t make a very good secret agent.

The veteran Martins Ferry head football coach doesn’t even pretend to mask the key to Friday’s Region 15 Division IV quarterfinal playoff game against the Ironton Fighting Tigers.

Bruney knows what Ironton does best, as does Ironton’s coaches, players, and fans. So it comes as no surprise when Bruney talks about the Ironton running game.

"It’s no secret. If you don’t slow Ironton’s running game, you won’t have any success," Bruney said. "And then we can’t get burnt with the play-action passing game they’re so good at. We have to limit our penalties and eliminate any turnovers. You can’t get caught on the short field against them."

Ironton (8-1) has utilized a running game by committee. Senior fullback B. J. Kerns was the main force with 518 yards and a team high eight touchdowns before a season-ending knee injury early in the third quarter of the sixth game at Portsmouth.

Junior halfback Tyler Scior ran for 188 yards on 19 carries last week to take over the team leadership with 534 yards and an 8.9 average.

Halfback Maurice Murphy has 391 yards and a 7.7 average while fullback Matt Kelly, who took over when Kerns was injured, has 274 yards and a 4.8 yards per carry.

The Purple Riders running game can match the Ironton attack. Junior tailback Joey Danehart (5-8, 162) has rushed for 1,081 yards and scored a team-high nine touchdowns.

Junior fullback Dustin Holt (5-9, 185) has 502 yards rushing on 81 carries for a 6.2 average yards per carry. He also has scored nine touchdowns.

"We’re a relatively young team," Bruney said. "Dustin Holt is a big kid who reminds me of (Kelly) and (Scior) on Ironton. They’re very much the same type player. He aggressive and runs hard."

Youth had been a big factor in the Martins Ferry season. An injury to the starting quarterback in the third quarter of the first game of the season forced sophomore Lance Mirich (6-3, 180) to take over the position. The Purple Riders lost the opener 24-19 to Cambridge.

"Mirich played one quarter in the eighth grade and was injured and missed the rest of the season. He was injured the first quarter of his freshman year and didn’t play the rest of the year. Then our starting quarterback gets all the reps through two-a-days. He suffered some growing pains last week, but hopefully he learned. He’s far exceeded our expectations," Bruney said.

"Our tailback also got hurt early, but our kids have shown a lot of character and have maintained their poise. We exceeded a lot of people’s expectations. We were two plays away from being 9-0 going into the last game."

The last game was a 37-14 loss to arch-rival Bellaire although the game was close until late in the second half. Against Cambridge, Martins Ferry had two drives stall inside the 5-yard line.

In the loss to St. Clairsville, Bruney said "two or three plays were the difference in that game."

Ironton and Martins Ferry (7-3) have one common opponent. Ironton beat Wheelersburg 10-3 the first game of the season, and Martins Ferry beat Wheelersburg 18-15 the following week.

"Wheelersburg was a similar score for both of us, but Ironton on film looks like a much better team. Ironton has improved dramatically since week one," Bruney said.

Bruney is very familiar with Ironton. He was a graduate assistant at Marshall for one year, as assistant coach to cousin Bob Bruney for four years at Martins Ferry, the head coach for one season at Bridgeport, and then he has been the head coach of the Purple Riders the past 22 years.

Bob Bruney was the head coach at Ironton from 1967-71.

"I’ve been fortunate to coach some Ironton kids in the North-South Game and they were great kids," Bruney said. "And my cousin being down there I’ve always known about Ironton. That’s one of the first scores I look for on Saturday."

Bruney and his son, Zachary, were at the state championship game last season. He remembers the game well.

"I was sitting on the 30 and Ironton made the first down without question. My son and I were sitting there and he said, ‘Well, that’s it (it’s a first down and Ironton will run out the clock). I know there are some kids back and I’ve watched them on film. They’re fundamentally sound. They do a tremendous job at what they do. They are so well-coached. I don’t know how anyone couldn’t respect what they’ve done."

And since Bruney is aware of Ironton’s returning players, he knows matching up with Ironton’s size will be a key factor.

"We’re fairly quick. We don’t have a lot of size, but we come off ball pretty well. Physically size-wise, we’ll be at a disadvantage," Bruney said.