ST. CLAIRSVILLE - It turned out state-ranked St. Clairsville didn't need either of its injured NCAA Division-I recruits Friday night to retain the coveted Coal Bucket.
With sophomore Shane Peroni doing his best Jaylon Brown impersonation, and the bend-but-don't-break defense overcoming the loss of linebacker Michael Ferns (Michigan), St. Clairsville (6-0) rolled to a 40-7 Homecoming victory against Harrison Central at balmy Red Devil Stadium.
Peroni, who is listed at 5-foot-8 and 140 pounds, ran bigger than that as he accounted for a career-high 96 yards and scored two touchdowns on 12 carries for the Red Devils, who were ranked No. 2 in the latest Associated Press poll behind Wheelersburg.
"There was a lot of pressure on me, but I responded," Peroni said. "I just tried to run away from the defenders and the offensive line did a good job of blocking in front of me."
His head coach couldn't have been any prouder.
"We practice our butts off from top to bottom,'' St. Clairsville's Brett McLean said. ''We don't stand around at practice. All the kids get work that people don't know. It paid off (Friday night). Sure, we had some injuries, but we put the pressure on the kids in practice. That's what you have to do so they don't come out and panic under the lights.
The Huskies (2-4) won the opening coin toss, but deferred until the second half. That proved to be a bad decision as it took St. Clairsville one play to find the end zone.
Starting at his own 40, junior quarterback Michael Monteroso went for it all on first down. His pass down the sideline hit speedy Malik Gummer in stride at the Huskies 25. The Red Devils junior made a nifty cutback on a defender at the 20 and walked into the end zone to complete to 60-yard strike.
"It's always good to score early," McLean said.
After forcing a Harrison Central punt, Monteroso found sophomore Brendan Ferns all alone in the middle of the end zone from 12 yards out. Zach Musilli's second of four PATs made it 14-0 with 6:30 left in the first quarter.
Peroni keyed the 58-yard march with a 25-yard burst around his right end.
Harrison Central was finally able to muster some offense as the Huskies drove from their own 30 to deep in St. Clairsville territory, but on first-and-goal from the 3, the ball was fumbled and the Red Devils fell on it at the 2.
"We made a lot of mental mistakes," Harrison Central coach Justin Kropka said. "I was really disappointed in how we played. Not so much the physical aspect because I thought we played hard, but mentally we had some bad, bad mistakes.
"We even went with a conservative game plan trying to avoid the turnovers, but instead of throwing three interceptions, we fumbled three times. I'm at a loss as to how and correct that."
The Huskies finally found the promised land as Travis Stenson capped a 4:52 drive with a 11-yard blast up the middle.
However, that would be all the points the visitors could muster as St. Clairsville came up with big play after big play defensively.
On the ensuing drive, Monteroso used his arm to drive the Red Devils down the field. Hitting on four of his nine completions, he got his team to within field goal range for Musilli. The strong-legged senior split the uprights from 23 yards out as the lead increased to 17-7.
The Huskies, behind a pair of big runs from Niko Williams and Bryson Porter, got to the St. Clairsville 4 late in the half before turing it over on downs.
"We needed to score there, but we felt good being down 17-7," Kropka noted. "We were getting the ball to start the second half, but we didn't do anything with it and they went down the field and scored."
The Red Devils first possession of the second half ended the same as the initial possession of the game. On second-and-7 from the Huskies 48, Peroni took a handoff to the left. He saw a bevy of defenders and wisely cutback against the grain where he found a whole lot of running room. Just when it seemed like he was stopped at the 7, he alertly stopped and cutback to his left before walking in untouched.
St. Clairsville was forced to punt on its next series, but the ball slipped through the returners hands and Tanner Nemeti pounced on it at the Harrison Central 13. After a Monteroso-to-Jake Stewart pass picked up 8 yards, Peroni went around his left end for the remaining 5 yards and six more points. Musilli made it 31-7.
A 29-yard Musilli field goal and a 4-yard scoring run by Cole Skaggs concluded the scoring in the final quarter.
For the game, St. Clairsville racked up 375 yards of offense, with 212 coming on the ground. Monteroso was 9-for-16 for 163 yards and the two scores.
Harrison Central finished with 265 yards, with 189 of that coming via the ground. Williams led the way with five carries for 52 yards. Miser was only on target eight times in 20 attempts for 76 yards and a pick. He did surpass the 1,000-yard mark on the season.