St. Marys: Purple People Eaters

Before we kick things off here, St. Marys head coach Jodi Mote would like to thank all law enforcement and fire departments in the counties of Ohio -Wheeling; Marshall-Moundsville; Wetzel-New Martinsville and Paden City; Tyler-Sisterville and Pleasants County-St. Marys and Belmont for the escort both to and back from Wheeling Saturday night. The team also would like to thank all the adults who work with the youth in the football at the middle and high school levels. The victory was a true team effort.

St. Marys’ defensive coordinator Jay Powell’s favorite National League Football team to this day is the Minnesota Vikings. Though he didn’t grow up in the era of the famous Vikings defense nicknamed the Purple People Eaters, he did hear about them from his dad. He remembers they were quick to the ball and all 11 guys could get there from any point on the field.

Fast forward to Saturday night and Powell was in charge of his very own Purple People Eaters when No. 2 St. Marys took on No. 1 East Hardy for a state championship at Wheeling Island Stadium.

The Blue Devils had allowed just 7 points coming into the contest the entire postseason but they saved their best performance for last.

St. Marys’ opponent came in boasting Kennedy Award hopeful Corey McDonald and a host of offensive weapons. The Cougars plowed through their regular season schedule and averaged close to 40 points per contest.

You could call the task a tall one but the St. Marys defense performance was above and beyond many expectations. The unit allowed just eight points and helped to bring home the first title in school history.

Of the nine drives East Hardy had on the evening, eight of them ended in a punt, turnover on downs, interception or lost fumble.

First-year defensive back Will Billeter was on the receiving end of three of those turnovers. The senior recovered a fumble forced by Jacob Northrop and picked off McDonald twice on the evening. He also did his best on Cougars’ wide receiver Brett Tharp, who had four catches for 93 yards but it was a challenge for the junior to even get those.

The stat line was even more impressive when you consider Tharp’s 2016 numbers. On the year, he snared more than 100 passes for 1,000 plus yards.

Tharp’s quartet of catches was in a group of just 8 completions on the night out of 22 for McDonald. After averaging close to 300 yards through the air and four touchdown passes a game, the signal-caller was limited to no scoring tosses and 162 aerial stripes. In addition, McDonald had only been picked off eight times entering the contest.

Dylan Gray, Jacob Northrop, Devin Boley, and Elijah Hearn all did an outstanding job on the evening of pressuring McDonald and forcing him to throw over the heads of many receivers. The defensive line and linebackers (Jaiden Smith, Braden Barnhart, and Boley) also did an excellent job of taking McDonald down behind the line of scrimmage and not letting him get anything done with his legs.

Containment was especially important because the Cougar passer could get the job done on the ground as well. He ran for more than 1,000 yards on the season. However, on Saturday night he only found 81 stripes on a brutal 22 carries. Even when he did leave the pocket he was hit hard and dropped quickly.

Jaiden Smith was especially nasty and made several jaw-rattling hits against No. 12 in green.

“Going into the game we felt our upfront people were better than their upfront people,” said St. Marys’ head man Jodi Mote. “It really showed during the game.”

St. Marys’ secondary players were consistently draped all over East Hardy receivers and batted away several passes in addition to Billeter’s interceptions.

“Jay (Powell) did a great job of getting to play and I thank him and give credit to our staff,” said Mote. ‘It wasn’t just tonight it was all season long and the adage ‘offense sells tickets, defense wins championships’ was true tonight; we almost shut out a very good offense if it hadn’t been for the late score and you can’t ask for anything more.”