BELLAIRE - The fourth-longest high school football rivalry in the state of Ohio is quickly becoming more even in terms of the all-time series record.
With it's lopsided 37-0 whitewashing of neighboring host Bellaire on an overcast Saturday afternoon afternoon at mud-filled Nelson Field, Martins Ferry closed the gap to 52-47-7.
The Purple Riders also established a bit of history while retaining the coveted SPARKY Trophy for the fifth consecutive season - a high-water mark during veteran coach Dave Bruney's storied tenure.
Martins Ferry QB Jonathan Carlier takes the snap on Saturday at Nelson Field.
''This is very special,'' Bruney said.
''We talked about that a little bit during the week.''
The triumph also gave Martins Ferry (8-2) a chance to possibly play host to a first-round Ohio High School Athletic Association Division IV playoff game next Saturday. The likely opponent is Coshocton, but the official pairings will be announced sometime today.
''It was one of those days,'' lamented Bellaire coach Jose Davis, who dropped to 0-3 in the rivalry as a coach. ''You can't afford to have a day like we did against a team like Martins Ferry. They just lined up and ran it down our throats and our defense couldn't get off the field.''
Martins Ferry scored on its first three possessions to take a commanding 21-0 lead and never looked back.
It appeared as though Bellaire had caught a break on the opening kickoff when Martins Ferry's Cody Schau fumbled the ball while attempting to field it inside his own 5. After picking it up and dropping it was again, the senior started up field, dodged a couple of would-be tacklers and took off down the sideline before being run out of bounds at the Big Reds 47.
From there, it only took the Purple Riders three plays to cover the distance. On second-and-8, senior tailback Tyrel Simmons took a handoff and set sail on a 42-yard scamper around his right end that pushed him past the 1,000-yard mark for the season and moved the ball to the 3-yard line.
Classmate and backfield mate C.J. Williams did the rest when he blew through a gaping hole behind right guard Zac Coole and right tackle Elliott Albert to enter the end zone standing up. Richie Padyjasek converted the first of his five PAT kicks for a 7-0 reading with a mere 58 seconds elapsed.
''They bobble that opening kickoff and we've got three kids right there, but they don't make the tackle and you saw what happened after that,'' Davis said. ''We just couldn't get our defense off the field.''
After the Purple Riders defense held the Big Reds to the first of three straight three-and-outs, the offense marched 53 yards on five plays as quarterback Jonathan Carlier snuck in from a yard out. Keying the 1:58 drive was a 36-yard jaunt by Simmons, who finished as the game's leading rusher with 188 yards to give him 1,082 on the year.
''This means a lot,'' Simmons said. ''I've never lost to Bellaire personally. This is a great accomplishment and I'm glad to have the 1,000 yards, but I owe it all to my offensive line and my fullback. These guys have done a great job all year.''
It was Simmons who bumped the count to 21-0 with a 13-yard run up the middle with 39.6 seconds left in the first quarter. That capped an 8-play, 59-yard drive that ate 4:30 off the clock.
Martins Ferry appeared headed for a fourth score but Bellaire's Derek Bradshaw made a leaping interception at his own 11 to snuff out that second-quarter threat.
The Big Reds were finally able to muster some offense as they moved the first-down sticks twice to reach their own 41, but Spencer Badia's pass on first down was picked off by Carlier, who returned it 27 yards to the Bellaire 35 with 3:29
Martins Ferry got to the Bellaire 15 with a minute to go, but Simmons was stopped short on fourth down by Anthony Vinka and the Big Reds had held.
However, after a 5-yard illegal motion penalty moved the ball back to the 10, Badia ran an option pitch right and delivered the ball to senior tailback Josh Davis. The ball slipped through his fingers and he was forced to fall on it in the end zone for a safety, which gave the Purple Riders a 23-0 halftime advantage.
The second half saw Martins Ferry control the ball and the tempo. The Purple Riders ran 34 offensive plays to just 11 for the Big Reds.
All told, the Purple Riders churned out 321 yards and all five touchdowns on 59 carries. Aiding Simmons' game-high total was Williams with 87 and two touchdowns on 18 totes. His second TD run, which made it 30-0 in the third quarter, was a thing of beauty. He took an inside handoff from Carlier and was immediately bottled up, but he kept his legs moving and twisted and turned his was until he was loose from the pack of bodies. He cut to the right and lunged into the end zone to complete a 19-yard run and 12-play, 79-yard, 6:51 drive.
Carlier finished off the scoring with a 3-yard run that concluded a 15-play, 65-yard march that chewed up nearly nine minutes (8:58) of the third-and-fourth quarter clock.
Bellaire, which came into the game averaging a tad over 30 points per outing, was only able to generate 34 yards of total offense against a tenacious and ballhawking Martins Ferry defense, which was led by senior defensive tackles Albert and Coole and sophomore defensive end Robert Vargo.