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Irish Showing Improvement

September 6, 2012
By JOSH STROPE , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

PADEN CITY - St. John may be just 1-1, but that might make it the surprise of the season early on.

The Fighting Irish won the opener against Bridgeport before almost knocking off a good Conotton Valley team last week, a game Coach Jason Merryman feels they let get away from them.

''We had six turnovers and were penalized 14 times for 145 yards,'' he said. ''We held them to 10 yards in the first half and ended up losing the game.

''It was just two turnovers at the wrong time, with two touchdowns called back and an interception called back. Things just started to snowball.''

Still, this team seems to have a new energy under Merryman, who came over after being a Shadyside assistant.

This isn't your same old St. John team and Paden City coach Brent Croasmun knows that.

''They are much improved over last year,'' Croasmun said. ''They have a nice big running back, a speedy receiver, and I know we are going to have our hands full.

''They have some kids back and added some kids that were at Shadyside last year and that has helped them. We know we are going to have to stop their running game and that is something we haven't been able to do. Our defense really has to be a lot better than the past two weeks.''

Paden City has opened the season 0-2, dropping games to Clay-Battelle and Van.

Beginning the season with 16 kids was hard enough, making an injury almost impossible to overcome. When it comes to your quarterback like it did to sophomore Zach Heasley, that changed Croasmun's whole way of thinking.

The veteran coach wanted to sling it around more than in recent seasons, but instead has had to change his offense into running more Wildcat with Brandon Cross.

''Our offense has moved the ball at times,'' Croasmun said. ''The biggest positive has been the play of Brandon Cross. He rushed for 147 yard (against Van) and just doesn't seem to wear down.

''Plus he had a real good defensive game. He has been a real plus for us and I think he is only going to get better.''

Cross is still learning the quarterback position and still making his mistakes, including throwing into a crowd and calling the wrong play. Heasley has an injured shoulder and won't be able to get an MRI until Friday.

That might not help against an aggressive St. John defense. Its quarterback, D.J. Shoemaker has had a solid first few games. Against the Rockets, he combined for 137 yards of total offense and two touchdowns.

''We have a lot of experience on this team having eight seniors,'' Merryman said. ''From the very get-go, the motto is ' Believe.' Believe in us, believe in your teammates. We want them to expect to win. We don't want to be the same St. John team in the past.

''I know (Croasmun) is in the same situation as St. John used to be in the past with the number of kids, but that is Single-A football and he has been dealing with this a long time. I'm sure he has some tricks up his sleeve.''

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