WINTERSVILLE - The prep football season is still relatively young, but there's already a showdown game on tap.
It's a battle of unbeatens at Kettlewell Memorial Stadium Friday night as Buckeye 8 plays kicks off with a bang for Indian Creek and St. Clairsville.
"The next eight weeks are like a gauntlet," said Red Devils' head coach Brett McLean. "There are big games every week for everyone and it can certainly wear on you."
Not much has worn on neither the Red Devils nor the Redskins this season as both have been relatively unchallenged en route to their respective 3-0 starts.
The Red Devils are making their third road trip in four weeks and it's their first time they'll play on a grass field. However, that's really of little concern to McLean.
"We'll practice some this week on grass and we practiced some in the pre-season on it, too," McLean said. "What really worries me is that we've not been on the field for four full quarters yet. How are we going to react in those situations?"
Indian Creek, 3-0
(games at 7 p.m. unless noted)
52 at Weir High 12
26 East Liverpool 12
41 at Oak Glen 9
Sept. 14 St. Clairsville
Sept. 22 at Bellaire, 12:30 p.m.
Sept. 28 Union Local
Oct. 5 at Martins Ferry
Oct. 12 Harrison Central
Oct. 19 at Buckeye Local
Oct. 27 Edison
Against a quality Redskins' combine this could be the week that the Red Devils are put to the test for the entire 48 minutes.
"We probably couldn't be staring at any tougher of an opener than at Indian Creek," McLean said. "They're one of the most talented teams in the league and we've been watching many of their kids for three years now."
The Red Devils have plenty of talent in their own right, considering they've got two future major college recruits in senior Dan Monteroso (Boston College) and junior Michael Ferns (Michigan) and plenty of other weapons that the Redskins' defense and coordinator Sean Grinch will be facing.
"I think we're focused because it's the most important part of the schedule with us starting league play. It's not that we're overemphasizing St. Clairsville, but starting we are starting Buckeye 8 play," said Indian Creek coach Andrew Connor. "One we're proud of how our defense has played and has progressed so far. We grew up a lot last week stoping Oak Glen's bread and butter, the run. That hasn't changed much this week. They have a lot of skill but if you ask St. Clairsville, they want to run the ball so we have to stop the run.
"I've said this for three weeks, you win or lose by the strength of the guys up front. Our offensive line has done an admirable job of openign holes so we can run the football and we're fortunate to have four or five backs that have run the ball hard. If you can run the ball you can control the football game.
"I think the biggest thing is remaining gap sound. Doing a good job of alternating our defensive linemen and linebackers. We don't want to play tired. Kids put out a lot of energy because of a big crowd and the importance of the game. Adrenaline can work against you. We need to get a little better than we were a week ago. That's what we've been doing and I expect us to do that htis week."
While the Red Devils' aforementioned players get much of the publicity, the St. C. engine is fueled by senior quarterback Matt Kinnick. He's completed 27-of-39 passes for 563 yards and 11 touchdowns. Junior speedster Jaylon Brown leads the ground attack with 300 yards and five touchdowns. Monteroso has been the focal point for St. Clairsville the last two weeks. He's caught 13 passes for 313 yards and seven touchdowns.
"For us, he (Kinnick) is not overlooked," said Connor. "He hurt us running the ball last year. We feel Kinnick is versatile and he throws the deep ball well. He distributes the ball to all their weapons. He's like a point guard in that sense. He's not afraid to run and he runs hard. It comes down to the defensive line not running out of lanes.
"Our ends must keep contain and keep him in the pocket and our tackles must get a push up the middle to pressure him."
Ferns, who plays all over on offense, has ran for 87 yards and a score and has made four receptions for 106 yards and two touchdowns. Titus Lepic and Jerrid Marhefka are also options. Marhefka is playing with a cast on his hand, which has limited his pass-catching abilities.
The Red Devils' line - comprised of Corey Ernest, Cole Stephen, Joel Giffin, Tom Parker and Nick VanVoltenburg - has been brilliant this season in protecting for Kinnick and opening holes for Brown.
"We're really impressed with Creek's defensive front," McLean said. "They've got smart, fast and physical players. They're quicker than teams we've seen to this point, so this will certainly be a good gauge of where we are."
The Redskins' defense is led by linebackers Shane Winland and Tyler Sharpe, who've combined for 45 tackles. Defensive end Montell McClelland is an impressive defensive end.
On the offensive side, Creek is averaging almost 40 points a game behind the solid quarterback play of Alex Young.
"I'm impressed with a lot of growth as far as Alex playing quarterback," said Connor. "Our wideouts have grown and are catchign the ball better. Our offensive line was a concern being young and they've done an outstanding job so far this seaosn. Biggest thing has been our play defensively. Our starting defensive unit has given up only six points. That says a lot about how we're playing defensively."
The two-headed rushing monster of Blake Roar and Logan Woods has been impressive. Each has better than 200 yards thus far.
"Indian Creek is impressive because they spread you out or they can line up and play physical and just try to maul you," McLean said. "They do a lot of things well, they've got a stable of backs and their quarterback is the best we've faced so far."