Big Red adding to long tradition

STEUBENVILLE — Back in early August, Reno Saccoccia pointed out that adding to the tradition of Steubenville football is an annual goal for his program.

As he prepares his Big Red for Saturday’s Ohio Division IV championship game, the Hall of Fame coach feels his 2017 club has achieved the goal.

“This team has not only lived up to the tradition of the Big Red football program, but has added to it with a third straight trip to the state finals,” he said Tuesday while studying film of Clinton-Massie. “But, the only thing we have done right now through 14 games is earn the right to play in this game. We haven’t done anything else. We have just earned the right to play in this game.

“These kids knew early on they were working on the bigger reputation established in the Big Red football program by guys before them. As the season went on, they earned their own reputation and built a solid foundation for this team. When you have a solid foundation, it is hard to break.”

Big Red (14-0) will be looking to secure the program’s fourth state championship when it meets Clinton-Massie (13-1) at 3 p.m. Saturday inside the Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium.

Steubenville is making its ninth state championship game appearance (its record is 3-5). The Big Red lost back-to-back heartbreakers to Columbus Bishop Hartley the past two seasons with both defeats coming by a total of just six points. This will be the third trip to the title battle for the Falcons, winning state titles in 2012 and 2013.

Big Red qualified for the finals thanks to a 35-22 come-from-behind victory over Shelby. C-M, on the other hand, rallied to top New Concord John Glenn 28-21.

“Both teams left it out there,” Saccoccia said about the semifinal game with Shelby. “They made their plays in both halves, and we made our big plays. We were fortunate enough that our big plays were enough to get the job done. We probably could play that game 10 times and have 10 different outcomes.

“Our guys stuck with it when we were down at halftime. That was a very good Shelby team going against a very good Steubenville team. Both teams had success at various points during the game. We have all the respect in the world for Shelby High School and its football program.”

Saccoccia’s club began its playoff run with a victory over Salem. It then took down Youngstown Cardinal Mooney and Perry before taking on Shelby.

“We’ve had to travel a tough road — going from Mooney, which has been among the best teams in Division IV for the last 20 years, to a 12-0 Perry team to a 13-0 Shelby club,” Saccoccia said. “It’s been a tough road — a demanding road — and now we’re preparing for a very strong Clinton-Massie team.

“Our players have done a real good job of taking it one game at a time, one play at a time and then getting to the next play. I’m happy with the way they’ve been working, preparing and executing. They know, however, there’s still plenty of work to be done.”

Win or lose, Saturday’s game will be the final one for 20 Big Red seniors (DaJuan Jones, Gino Pierro, Johnny Agresta, Javon Davis, Alec Taylor, Abe Zane, Jacob Bernard, Jamal Petteway, Dezmond Smith, Lucas Koval, Jonathon Blackmon, Quentin Moore, Devin Evans, Ryan Neely, Reuben Saxon, Alijah Demitras, Marlon Lawrence, Jordan Veirs, Richard Lawrence and Zach Ekey).

“Our seniors have done a fantastic job,” Saccoccia said. “We have a solid team, but your team is only as good as your seniors. They know what they’ve accomplished, they know what is expected, and they know what they need to do on Saturday. They have worked hard, they have prepared, and they have been a great bunch of players to be around.”

Notes:

– Big Red has scored 517 points through 14 games (36.9 points per game), while allowing 174 (12.4 points per game). Steubenville has outscored its opponents 203-32 in the first quarter, 151-65 in the second, 96-50 in the third and 67-27 in the fourth.

– Big Red has been pretty successful when it comes to fourth down conversions. Through 14 games, it is 21-of-37 for 57 percent. On third down conversions, Steubenville is 68-of-142, 48 percent. Steubenville opponents are 29-for-148 on third down conversions (20 percent) and 7-of-28 on fourth down tries (25 percent).

– Clinton-Massie is a team that likes to run the football. Through 14 games, Big Red has done a pretty solid job of stopping the run. Opponents have had 310 rushing attempts, resulting in a net yardage total of 1,019 (3.3 yards per carry). Big Red is allowing 72.8 rushing yards per outing. Big Red foes have lost 483 yards rushing.

– Jones leads Steubenville’s defense in interceptions with six. He has returned his picks for 84 yards and has one pick six, covering 52 yards. In total, the Big Red “D” has 13 interceptions and has recovered 12 fumbles

– Big Red has 319 first downs for the season (230 rushing, 80 passing and nine via penalty). Opponents have 129 first downs (63 rushing, 48 passing and 18 via penalties).

– Penalties have been somewhat an issue for Big Red. Through 14 games, Steubenville has drawn 103 flags for 963 yards, an average per game of 68.8.

– The school will hold a pep rally for the team at 5 p.m. Friday inside Harding Stadium.