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Mineral Ridge’s Mark Bunch continues to improve as Rams win two straight

Staff photo / R. Michael Semple Mineral Ridge’s Mark Bunch throws a touchdown pass to Tyler Tamburro during the Rams’ matchup with Newton Falls.

MINERAL RIDGE — Each game in a season is just another opportunity for players to improve.

Win or lose, players can take something away from their performance and apply it to their practices that week in order to build up their talents and Mineral Ridge quarterback Mark Bunch has been a perfect example of that this year.

At the beginning of the season, the Rams faced a tough challenge when the Pymatuning Valley Lakers came to town on the same night that the team christened its new turf field at the Joe Lane Sports Complex.

The Lakers came away with a 22-7 victory and limited Bunch to just 114 passing yards and a touchdown as he completed 11 of his 24 passes with an interception. Ever since that game, the Mineral Ridge signal-caller has been red-hot, leading the Rams to two straight victories while throwing for 484 yards and seven touchdowns.

“We knew we had to lean on him this year, whether it was his arm or his legs, and he’s a great dual-threat quarterback,” Mineral Ridge second-year coach Brian Shaner said. “We got off to a slow start against Py Valley and we really struggled blocking them. But if he’s not doing what he’s been doing we’re not in these football games.”

After the loss to Pymatuning Valley, Bunch completed 12 of his 14 pass attempts against East Palestine while throwing for 212 yards and four touchdowns. Then, this past week, the 6-foot-2, 185 pounder led the Rams to a crucial 36-22 victory over Newton Falls while throwing for 272 yards and three touchdowns.

As each game has passed this season, Bunch has built on his previous performance with an efficient passing approach as he’s gotten accustomed to his skill players in the early parts of the season. But, the talented quarterback is also just looking to lead his team.

“It’s really just been being hungry for wins,” Bunch said about his recent improvement. “I’ve just wanted to come out and get better each and every week. Our game planning has really helped and our receivers have been able to get open and our line has been blocking better. Everyone has just been putting a lot more work into getting better each week.”

When Shaner took over the Mineral Ridge program last season, Bunch was just a junior and was taking over under center for the Rams. Ever since then, the talented quarterback has come a long way and Shaner said one of the biggest things that has allowed him to improve over the last year is his ability to be coached.

“Body wise and mentally, he’s matured,” Shaner said. “But the big thing he lets happen is he lets me coach him hard. He doesn’t take it personally. He knows I’m in this thing with him. Win or loss, he’s my guy and we are in this together. He’s a really good quarterback and I think his best Friday nights are still ahead of him.”

So far through this season Bunch has spread the ball to four different receivers but senior Tyler Tamburro and junior Mason Miller lead the team with 14 receptions a piece. In the last two games, Tamburro has broken out, catching four passes for 123 yards against East Palestine and another six passes against Newton Falls for 129 yards.

As time has gone on Bunch has started to develop a better rapport with his receivers which has contributed to his improvement as well.

“This year, being able to go to the 7-on-7’s helped him (Bunch) a lot,” Shaner said. “We were blessed with a very skilled senior class last year, so all these guys out here are brand new starters at wide receiver. Now, they are talented but they are brand new and they are still getting on the same page and understanding the offensive scheme.”

As games go on the Rams will continue to come together and the passing attack will become even more dangerous, but Bunch will always have another trick up his sleeve as well. Over the first three games this season, and even last season, Bunch was able to beat teams with his legs as well.

“It just makes our offense more versatile and allows us to do more things,” Bunch said about him being able to use his legs. “It just makes it harder for defenses to game plan against us.”

The Rams will take on longtime rival McDonald tonight as Bunch looks to step his game up another notch and end Mcdonald’s eight-game winning streak in the rivalry.

gmacafee@tribtoday.com

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