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Football: Championships Are Won on The Defensive Side

November 17, 2012
By RICK THORP ( , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

ZANESVILLE - Amid all of St. Clairsville's offensive prowess is a defense that has played lights out most of this season.

Such was the case Friday night as the Red Devils (13-0) topped Johnstown-Monroe, 37-29, to capture the Ohio Division IV, Region 15 championship, the first regional crown for the school since 1986.

University of Michigan recruit Michael Ferns led the way for the unit, which forced a handful of Johnnies turnovers and came up big when it counted in the closing moments.

"I think the biggest challenge we faced was that we hadn't faced a team so far this season that depended on the run like this," Ferns said.

"It was something for us to step up to and we did. And, with this being a regional final, we wanted to make things happen.

"We work as a team to make things happen. I'm so happy to be a part of this group."

Nowhere was this more evident than early in the fourth quarter.

With the Red Devils having just taken a 31-21 lead on a 67-yard touchdown strike from Matt Kinnick to Dan Monteroso, the Johnnies (10-3) set up shop at their own 29.

On first down, Johnstown-Monroe quarterback Tyler Thompson threw an incomplete pass amid pressure from St.C.'s Jay Gossett.

On second down, it was Derek Shunk applying the pressure, forcing another incompletion.

On the third down, the defense tipped a pass and, on fourth down and the Johnnies going for it, Thompson was forced to scramble. With a throng of Red Devils defenders chasing him, he was finally brought down for a huge loss.

A short time later, Gossett reaped the rewards of his defensive efforts, leaping high in the air over the middle to haul in a TD strike from Kinnick that all but put the game away.

Ferns picked off a Thompson pass later to go along with Jerrid Marhefka's pick from earlier in the game.

"This defense is so underrated it's not even funny," St. Clairsville coach Brett McLean said. "People picked on us defensively the last two or three years. Coach (Ben) Frye and Coach (Bruce) Styles have done an excellent job.

"Our defense faces a lot more downs than the average defense because of how we run offensively.

"But (Friday) we knew it was going to be a slugfest coming in and that we had to stand tall and play physical.

"We won this game up front. They had a physical offensive front and we knew that all week. Our kids reacted well. The coaches and the younger players, in practice, did a great job of helping us defend them."

Marhefka picked up his seventh interception of the season during the second half.

"The offense might win games, but the defense wins championships," he said. "

Time after time, St. Clairsville put the Johnnies in a hole and forced them to pass, which isn't their strong suit.

"The negative plays are great because they are a running team," Marhefka said. "When we force them to pass that's when our DBs can make plays.

"We came together as a unit last year. Some people thought we were soft so we came into this year wanting to prove to the state of Ohio that we're a good defensive team."

It's safe to say football fans in the Buckeye State have the message.

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