STEUBENVILLE - First-year coach Sean Blumette, his staff at Brooke High School and his players could not have been more excited and anxious to get the 2012 high school football season underway this summer.
Then, just like that, the season began, the Bruins lost one of their best players and leaders to a knee injury in Raleigh Mason and also the season opener in heartbreaking fashion, a one-point decision to Parkersburg at home.
Three weeks later Brooke is in the process of closing out one of the toughest stretches of schedule that a team could ever ask for. After falling to unbeatens St. Clairsville and University, the Bruins are staring straight into the eyes of Steubenville Big Red.
Big Red QB Corey Stinson surveys the field.
Brooke coach Sean Blumette
Steubenville's Dashon Redman
Friday night at 7 p.m. Blumette will take his squad across the Ohio river and up the hill to Harding Stadium, where another undefeated team awaits in Coach Reno Saccoccia's bunch.
It is the third consecutive season the two schools have met with Steubenville winning the first two by a combined 74-28 margin, including last year's 40-6 stomping at Brooke Memorial Stadium.
''I feel like right now we are two teams just fighting to stay healthy, but we are fortunate enough to be 3-0 and they are 0-3, but we are both banged up,'' Saccoccia said.
''Sometimes it is not a good thing to be learning and growing as you go because you have to learn from losses, but we have been learning with wins and that is important.''
To add insult to injury, while Big Red is coming off a hard-fought 21-7 victory against Bishop Timon, the Bruins were blanked 45-0 last week by the Hawks in Morgantown.
Also, add in the fact that while Steubenville continues breaking in a new quarterback in senior Corey Stinson, it has been relying on its running game a little, racking up 173 yards a week ago and being led by senior Dashon Redman, who had 86 yards against the Tigers, and junior Robert Hayden, who finished with 55. TeShawn Luke also found the end zone on a carry.
''What can you say about Steubenville? They are just a tremendous program,'' Blumette said. ''They have so much athletic ability, they are very physical and they just play a very smart brand of football. We have to find a way to match their intensity to be successful, and that isn't easy to do.''
Now, take into consideration that Brooke has had little luck stopping the ground game, giving up more than 250 yards a contest and allowing nine touchdowns. That includes the St. Clairsville game in which the Red Devils threw for nearly 300 yards and six scores.
''I would love to be able to petition the SSAC to allow us to play with 13 defenders, but I don't thing that is going to happen,'' Blumette joked. ''You know, you can draw up Xs and Os all you want and you can scheme, but if your kids don't have the desire and pride to not allow 300 yards rushing in a game, you are in trouble.
''The fact is that we just have not been a physical defense since our last scrimmage and I have no idea why that is.
''We have talked about desire and heart, but you have to go out on the field and show it.''
Stinson has been solid for Big Red through three games, and the club even went to its bag of tricks for a fake field goal and 15-yard touchdown pass from Evan Westlake to Matt Petrella.
On the other side of the coin, after rolling up 34 points in the opener against Parkersburg, Brooke has scored 14 points and accounted for just 333 total yards of offense.
Senior quarterback Alec Buchmelter has not hit 100 yards in either of the last two contests after having a huge game in the opener. Justin Laughrie did rush for 68 yards against University.
The Bruins will have to come to life against a staunch Big Red defense that has not only allowed just 98 rushing yards total in three games, but just 534 yards in all.
''Defensively we are playing to our potential,'' Saccoccia added. ''But on offense we need to get healthy on the line and get our tailbacks more carries. That is just something we are going to need to do to be successful.''