Connor, McLean no strangers to coaching against each other

THURSDAY NIGHT SPECIAL — Jonathan Giusto and the Indian Creek football team welcome St. Clairsville to Kettlewell Stadium tonight. (Photo by Joe Catullo)

WINTERSVILLE — For nearly two decades, Andrew Connor and Brett McLean have been leading Indian Creek and St. Clairsville against one another.

They’ll do it again tonight at Kettlewell Memorial Stadium. The kick is set for 7 p.m.

“We’ve coached against each other for 17 or 18 years,” McLean said. “We’re colleagues in coaching, that’s for sure. We share a lot of ideas and a lot of the same theories. Every year we go into this game expecting (it to be close). It’s good football. For most of the last 10 years, it’s been two playoff teams playing against each other.

“It’s great for our conference (the Buckeye 8) to have a rival game like this with good teams going against each other year after year.”

“For the last decade, the games have been very hard-fought,” Connor said. “I think that’s what happens when you get used to playing someone all the time and builds up a rivalry. I consider them a rival and have a lot of respect for Brett, what he’s done and his program. That’s what makes this game special.”

While the Red Devils have a wide advantage in the series overall – large in part to an 11-year winning streak from 2005-15 – the last four meetings have been an even split, with the last three of those coming down to a single score.

“On our schedule, Indian Creek is definitely one of the powerhouse teams we play every season,” McLean said. “We have a lot of respect for them and everything they’ve accomplished. The games have always been exciting, and the ones here recently have come down to the last play. It’s been a really exciting series between both schools.”

Connor’s Redskins have not had the season they had hoped for to date, sitting at 1-3 but were able to break through for their first win last week, a 30-8 decision at Buckeye Local, and got some key guys back from injury. The combination has Connor hoping the tide is turning.

“Any time you go out and are successful, it builds confidence,” Connor said. “We showed a lot of positive things, stopping big plays, consistency, running the football. There were a lot of things we did well we’ll look to build off of.

“Our effort has been great all year. The kids have been trying hard and pushing themselves. I think it clicked last week. We really forged forward as a group last week. We got a lot of guys back that really helped us. Football teams are families, and when when you see guys coming back from injuries or whatver it may be, it is always special and energizes the group.”

Meanwhile, the Red Devils sit at 4-0 with some impressive wins thus far and are ranked No. 1 in the latest Ohio AP Div. IV poll, but don’t count McLean as satisfied by any stretch.

“We’re frustrated by a lot of things we’re not doing,” he said. “In a normal season, this would be the midway point. But, in this COVID season, we’re getting in the latter half, and the opponents and the games get tougher.

“We’ve found a way to win — that’s the good thing. Each week it’s been different types of football, one phase guiding us or carrying us over the other, but we’ve got to right that ship soon. We’re not what we should be at this point.”

Connor knows the Red Devils, who have wins over Oak Hill, Wheeling Park, East Liverpool and Martins Ferry, will be a big measuring stick for how far his young team has grown.

“You look at the things that are normal for them. They’re very well coached and very athletic,” Connor said of the Red Devils. “This year, what they’ve been able to do well is make big plays when they need them, whether it’s an interception on defense in a critical situation or a big pass play, a big run. They’ve been very good at stopping momentum, and then quickly seizing on it and building momentum themselves.

“This is what you play high school football for. You want to see where you’re at against good teams. Going into Week 5, we get to see how far we’ve come. For us, it should motivate us to have this challenge on Thursday night.”

On the flip side, McLean thinks the Redskins are a better football team than their record indicates and expects another challenging game in Wintersville.

“They are smart coaches, and they always find the best game for their kids and get the most out of them,” he said. “Andrew and his staff have done that for years. I saw it it the film last week against Buckeye Local. Coach Connor is doing a lot of great things, and the biggest thing is Andrew is getting the most out of his kids. That’s his trademark.

“I’m certain they’re going to have confidence (after getting a win). They have a good team.”

Last season, Indian Creek edged out a 13-10 victory in Belmont County, with St. Clairsville taking a close 14-7 win the last time the teams met at Kettlewell.

So far, Indian Creek’s offense is averaging 15.75 points per game and 205.5 yards. First-year starting QB David Ferroni has tossed for 240 yards and a score, completing just under 44 percent of his passes.

On the ground, Jeremy Brown has racked up 210 yards and a score, averaging better than 4.5 yards per carry. Matt Schaefer, who missed Creek’s second and third games, had a triumphant return against Buckeye Local and has 178 yards and five touchdowns in just two games.

“They got the Schaefer kid back, and that’s a big boost for them,” McLean said. “He’s as advertised, was a big part of their team last year and is everything they could want from a three-year letterwinner.”

The Creek offense will be facing a Red Devil defense that has allowed an average of 16.5 points per game and 268.75 yards but is coming off of its best performance of the season, limiting Martins Ferry to just seven points and 210 yards, while creating two turnovers.

On the other side of the ball, McLean’s offense is averaging 29.5 points per game and 354 yards, led by quarterback Tyler Tonkovich with 552 passing yards and five touchdowns, adding another 187 yards and two scores with his feet.

Jacob Jordan lead the ground attack with 338 yards and two scores, while Colin Oberdick has hauled in 14 passes for 411 yards and five six-pointers to lead the receiving group.

“We can’t give up the big play,” Connor said. “In every one of their games, they’ve had big plays that have either been scores or changed the field position, and we can’t allow that to happen.”

They’ll be facing a Creek defense that is also coming off its best performance of the season, limiting the Panthers to eight points and 211 yards. Overall, the Redskins are allowing 28.75 points and 327.75 yards per game.


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