WELLSBURG - It is hard to believe that the Weir High and Brooke football teams are going to face off Friday night in Brooke's Veterans Memorial Stadium in one of the hardest fought rivalries in the Ohio Valley, and the teams have but one win between. Fans still remember the epic battles these two teams had during the 1960s, 70s and 80s when they were in the same Class AAA ranks and fighting for playoff berths.
That lone win this year was Brooke's 34-33 victory over Point Pleasant three weeks ago. Point Pleasant was unbeaten and state ranked at the time.
Both teams are beset with similar situations this season. Namely, new head coaches, youth, lack of depth and a ton of injuries.
"Brooke hasn't done well, but they have a very difficult Triple A schedule and they also are struggling with injury problems like us," said Weir High coach, Tony Filberto, whose team has lost all seven of its games. "But I'm looking for it to be an exciting night of high school football between two old rivals. You can't find much more exciting football year in and year out than when these two teams get together. I encourage the fans to come out and enjoy that atmosphere that we've had in the past."
Although first-year Brooke coach, Sean Blumette, is new on the scene hailing from the Western Pennsylvania area, he is well aware of the rivalry that exists.
"I know that you have a situation where two schools with close proximity you have a rivalry," he said. "About half the town of Weirton attends Weir High and the other half goes to Brooke so these kids know each other pretty well."
Blumette noted that both teams have gone through similar situations this year with new coaches, learning new systems, being young and beset by injuries.
However, Bluemette expects that starting running back and linebacker, Raleigh Mason, will be returning to bolster the Bruin lineup. Mason injured a knee on the third play of the first game of the season, a tough 35-34 loss to Parkersburg, and has missed out on a lot his senior season.
While Mason is returning, Blumette said he's not sure whether Alec Buchmelter, Brooke's starting quarterback the past three seasons, will be able to go full tilt. Buchmelter injured a hamstring in the 53-27 loss to Parkersburg South last week. If Buchmelter, who can't go, Aaron Walker, a sophomore, will be the signal caller.
Buchmelter has completed 75 of 149 passes for 912 yards and nine touchdowns. He has rushed for 198 yards and five scores. Freshman Justin Loughrie is the Bruins' leading rusher with 369 yards and three touchdowns.
"With Raleigh back and if Alec can play, it will be the first time we've had a full squad since the season began," Blumette continued. "The injuries have forced us to play younger than we are. We started out with a young team, but we have forced young kids to take on a lot bigger roles.
"I'm happy with their execution, but with youth come mistakes which result in big plays and turnovers. Then too, the few veterans we have begin to push and try to make plays and that results in mistakes that they normally wouldn't make."
Coach Filberto is singing the same song. He has been forced to put nine freshmen on the field for these last three games of the season. The Red Riders went down to Steubenville Catholic Central last week by 53-8.
"I've never seen a season where my team has had such a cluster of serious injuries," said the veteran of nearly 30 years of coaching. "We've certainly had our share and they are not just bumps and bruises. We are simply outmanned right now. Our kids practice hard and play hard and I keep telling them that when you play hard good things will happen. The benefits of having to do this should pay off eventually."
Weir High is led by senior Eric Piatt, who also was injured and missed four games. He has gained 204 yards with 36 carries and scored two touchdowns.
The teams have met on the gridiron every year since 1969 with Brooke holding a 29-13 edge in the series. Brooke has won the last three games. The Red Riders last win was a 28-27 squeaker in 2008. Brooke has won five of the last six meetings.
"Buchmelter is one of the premier high school football players in the Valley," Filberto exclaimed. "He was the starter in the state championship game as a sophomore and last year he rallied Brooke from a 1-4 record at midseason to 5-5. He's not only a good athlete, he brings outstanding leadership qualities."
Filberto said he expects Brooke to bring its high pressure defense, blitzing and using man coverage in the secondary. He said the Bruin offense is built around Buchmelter, but if Mason returns as expected it will definitely make a big improvement in their running game.
Meanwhile, Blumette's scouting report shows that the Red Riders want to run the football, use play action to pass and control the line of scrimmage.
"We've struggled this year at times defending the run and the play action," he said. "Also, people tend to underestimate the speed that Weir has and their kids have a lot of athletic ability. They lack size like us but they have tough kids on the line and they're not going to back down.
"I know they will come out Friday night with every intention of winning and they want to get that first win. I've been cautioning our kids about not being complacent. I want them to get excited about returning to our stadium for the first time in three weeks and play in a long-standing rivalry."