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Football Lookahead: St. Clairsville Begins What It Hopes Is Another Deep Run

November 7, 2013
By SETH STASKEY , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

St. Clairsville football and the postseason are becoming synonymous.

The Red Devils are embarking on their 10th trip to the playoffs, so it's becoming old hat.

Don't think for a minute, however, that a school that owns two regional championships and last season's Division IV state runnerup trophy takes it for granted.

Coach Brett McLean, who has guided St. C. to all but three of its prior trips, won't allow his players or coaching staff to begin to undersell the idea of playing beyond the promised 10 games.

"We didn't hesitate to celebrate the fact that we qualified," McLean said. "To us, it's a huge honor to make the playoffs. This is a great high school football state, and to be able to extend your season is always a good thing and something we strive for."

The Red Devils have dropped to Division V in the state's new seven-division system and will begin their march Saturday night at Red Devil Stadium against fifth-seeded Liberty Union.

"You have to play who's in front of you," McLean said. "Liberty Union's no stranger to winning. They have a strong tradition and they've gone toe-to-toe with a lot of bigger schools, so they're no stranger to big-time football. This could really be a great game."

It's actually a matchup of defending regional champions. Liberty Union won Region 19 a season ago before falling in the state semifinals. Many of those players on that team are back for Coach Dan Johnson, who is in his 29th season at the helm.

"It's sweet to get back in the playoffs," Johnson said. "The boys definitely appreciate and are excited for the opportunity. It's been a different kind of season for us because we've changed leagues."

The Red Devils won their final three outings by a combined score of 124-25.

They are led by senior tailback Jaylon Brown. The All-Ohioan has run for 1,244 yards and 20 touchdowns despite missing a game with an injury.

Johnson likes the speed of his squad, but didn't hesitate to admit that the Lions have no one as fast as Brown, who is a multiple-time All-Ohio sprinter on the track.

"We have a bunch of little, mean, fast guys, but none of them can run like (Brown)," Johnson said.

Junior Michael Monteroso has settled into the quarterback role. He's completed 71 of 127 passes for 1,064 yards and 10 touchdowns.

His top targets are junior Malik Gummer and J.C. Coleman. They've caught 22 and 16 passes, respectively.

Star Michael Ferns is questionable for this week's game with a lingering shoulder issue.

"It's a serious shoulder problem and that's how it needs to be approached," McLean said. "We've lost Brad LeCron and Blake Peroni for the season, but other than that, our depth chart is pretty sound. But, I don't think in 12 years that I've been here, we've had this many injuries. The playoffs, though, are a war of attrition."

If Ferns doesn't go, sophomore Jake Stewart, who has also missed a couple of games with injury, will take over the fullback role. Brendan Ferns is the St. C. tight end.

In the trenches, St. Clairsville's offensive line will own a size advantage. The line is comprised of Joel Giffin, Nick VanVoltenburg, John Bland, Mike Furbee and Colby Lindsay.

"We're not big on either side of the line," Johnson said. "This is going to be quite a challenge for us. They've got multiple weapons and it seems like they can run out of about 50 different formations, so we'll have to be prepared mentally and be lined up correctly on every play."

One advantage that Liberty has against St. Clairsville and probably most Division V teams is the ability to platoon. Very few players for the Lions go both ways.

The Liberty defense is led by Justin Barber, who has 115 tackles. Braden Powers has 89 tackles and eight sacks. Josh Parsley has 72 stops. In the secondary, Tyler Magley has five of his team's 16 interceptions.

The Lions offense is versatile with a strong running game and effective passing game.

Senior Jacob Basso, who played a star role for the Lions last season, leads the rushing attack with 183 carries for 1,091 yards and 15 touchdowns. He also handles the kicking duties.

Austin Vannatta is the quarterback. He's completed 98 of 163 passes for 1,321 yards and nine touchdowns. He's been picked off seven times.

Adam Snyder, son of Bellaire graduates Dan and Sherri (Bolon) Snyder, is the leading receiver with 35 catches for 538 yards and four touchdowns.

Eric McClure is the second-leading receiver with 21 receptions for 194 yards.

The Red Devils defense is led by Stewart, who's been a tackling machine at linebacker. He's been in on 110 tackles and has recovered three fumbles. Brendon Ferns has made has recorded 80 stops, while linebacker Ben Coleman checks in with 76 tackles. Isiah Sears gets the start at the other outside linebacker post.

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