ST. CLAIRSVILLE - When St. Clairsville and Harrison Central met in Week 5 of the regular season, it was a big game with Buckeye 8 position, bragging rights and the Coal Bucket on the line.
However, when the two meet at 7:30 Friday night at Red Devil Stadium, the only thing that will matter will be a trip to the Ohio Division IV, Region 15 semifinals the following week. Coach Brett McLean's Red Devils will bring a 10-0 record and top seed in the region into the first-round playoff encounter while Coach Justin Kropka's Huskies (7-3) enter as the No. 8 seed.
"It is one of those things that you hate to play another OVAC team in the first round because someone is getting knocked out," McLean said. "But the Buckeye 8 is such a quality conference and it gets teams ready for big games and there are a lot of points available for teams to make the playoffs.
"And yes, we are familiar with Harrison Central, but they are very familiar with us, as well. We meet earlier in the season now, but it used to be a huge Week 10 game for both teams. There is also just so much respect between the two coaching staffs and the kids, it is a very sportsmanship-oriented rivalry."
It will be the third consecutive home playoff game for St. Clairsville, with the Devils edging Chesapeake by a 30-27 count last year, before losing in the second round, and being upset by Lakeview, 42-21, in the 2010 regional quarterfinals.
This year brings a familiar opponent in Harrison Central, one in which St. C. has had its way with the last three times they have met. Not only have the Red Devils won all three of those games, they have outscored the Huskies by a whopping 124-13 margin, including this year's 42-6 victory.
Actually, the 42 points McLean's team tallied that night represents a season low for St. Clairsville's high-powered offense.
"We tried for an entire week earlier this season to find a chink in their armor," Kropka commented. "Now they are giving me a second shot and I still don't know if there is any there. Let's just call a spade, a spade; they are a great football team. When you complete a 10-0 regular season and beat everyone on your schedule by at least three or fourth touchdowns you have earned the right to be called that.
"But upsets happen, and it is why they play the games. We know that we are heavy underdogs and anyone that doesn't realize that must have missed the first 10 games of the season. But this is what I love, if I didn't I would never have taken this job. It's always fun, but when I got here it wasn't a very good situation, now not only are we sitting here talking about the playoffs, but I can even use the word, "again", and that is great stuff."
The game will once again feature some of the finest skill position players in the Ohio Valley. For the Red Devils it is quarterback Matt Kinnick, running back Jaylon Brown and receiver Dan Monteroso leading the way while for the Huskies it comes down to quarterback Rashaen Mitchell, running back Maurtice Hython and a slew of capable wide outs.
Kinnick is among the leading quarterbacks in the area, having thrown for 1,779 yards, 22 touchdowns and only three interceptions. Meanwhile, Brown has been nothing short of spectacular this season, rushing for 1,245 yards and leading the entire Ohio Valley with 24 six-pointers and 170 points scored overall. Monteroso is Kinnick's favorite receiver with 38 grabs for 777 stripes and 12 scores.
But while the big three put up most of the numbers, the veteran Red Devils can find so many different ways to hurt you, including on defense and special teams.
In the first meeting, Harrison Central actually led 6-0 less than two minutes in, but Brown finished the eventual blowout with 210 yards rushing and three scores, Kinnick was 7 of 9 for 137 yards a touchdown and Monteroso and Jared Marhefka combined for six catches for 111 stripes.
The Huskies entered that first matchup sitting at 4-0 and coming off a huge win over Martins Ferry, but then lost three of their next four before winning the final two. Those three losses came to St. Clairsville, Indian Creek and Bellaire, teams with a combined 27-3 record, and all of whom made the playoffs.
Mitchell is also near the top of the heap in passing yards locally with 1,433 yards through the air, 15 touchdowns and just five picks. Hython has also had a brilliant season as the top rushing threat in the valley with 1,795 yards and 20 trips to the end zone. Nate Olmstead and Nick Pelegreen are both major threats in the receiving corps.
"They have one of the best running games we face, year-in and year-out," McLean mentioned. "And Hython is an absolute monster and one of the best backs in the area. You try to limit him, but you also know that he is going to get his.
"But he is not it; they have some big-time players in kids like Mitchell and Pelegreen."
With the exception of its three losses, Harrison Central only allowed more than 12 points in a game one time during the season, surrendering three touchdowns to Edison in a 35-21 victory.
Friday night's winner will advance to take on the survivor of the Region 15 matchup between No. 4 Minford and No. 5 Piketon. Both teams enter that contest with identical 8-2 records.