Big Red hopes third time is the charm

CANTON — Will the third time be a charm for the Big Red football program?

That question will be answered this afternoon when Steubenville (14-0) and Clarksville Clinton-Massie (13-1) compete for the Division IV championship. The kick is set for 3 p.m. inside Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium.

Big Red is making its third consecutive appearance to the Div. IV finale, dropping back-to-back heartbreakers to Columbus Bishop Hartley by a total of six points.

Hall of Fame coach Reno Saccoccia guided Big Red to a Division II title in 1984 and consecutive Div. III championships in 2005 and 2006. Clinton-Massie grabbed Division IV crowns in 2012 and 2013.

In its playoff run, Clinton-Massie defeated Plain City Jonathan Alder 17-7, Germantown Valley View 28-20 and Cincinnati Wyoming 28-7 to win Region 16 before coming from behind to top New Concord John Glenn, 28-21, in the semifinals.

Big Red, on the other hand, defeated Salem 49-14, Youngstown Cardinal Mooney 19-14 and Perry 33-21 to win Region 13. In the semifinals, Steubenville scored 14 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to eliminate Shelby, 35-22.

“Massie is Massie,” Saccoccia said earlier this week. “They are a well-coached, disciplined and physical football team. That program has built its own reputation across the state. It’s an honor for us to play a team like Massie in the finals. It’s going to be a really, really good football game.”

Under veteran coach Dan McSurley, he’s been guiding C-M for 22 seasons. The Falcons have relied on a heavy run game that features the wishbone offense. That offensive philosophy has produced playoff teams for 16 consecutive seasons.

“Offensively, they do what they do, and they do it very well,” Saccoccia said.

Through 14 games, the Falcons have run the ball 618 times, gaining 4,279 yards (an average of 6.9 yards per carry). C-M has only thrown 41 passes.

Corey Stulz, a 6-1, 175-pound junior, directs the C-M offense. Joining him in the backfield are fullback Cody Collingham, a 5-9, 205-pound senior; Christian Poynter, a 5-10, 175-pound senior; Daulton Wolfe, a 5-8, 175-pound junior; and Tyler Beam, a 5-11, 205-pound junior.

Poynter is definitely Clinton-Massie’s go-to-guy. He has run for more than 1,400 yards to date. Collingham is the second leading ground gainer. He has run for 1,424 yards on 208 carries and 30 touchdowns. Collingham has 98 carries for 784 and four scores.

“Our gut instinct is to go with who is hot,” McSurley said when talking about his running backs. “We don’t throw it a whole lot.”

When they do throw it, the Falcons have been successful. Stulz has completed 21-of-41 passes for 718 yards. Of his completions, 18 have gone to Luke Richardson, a 6-0, 165-pound senior. Twelve of Richardson’s receptions have produced touchdowns, two of which came in the win over John Glenn.

Upfront, C-M has plenty of size. The offensive line includes junior Spencer Voss (6-4, 260), junior Spencer Branham (6-0, 226), junior Matt Phillips (6-2, 280) and senior Jacob Treisch (6-0, 280). Junior Seth Schmidt (6-5, 230) is the C-M tight end.

Through 14 games, Saccoccia’s Big Red has surrendered 1,019 net rushing yards. Opponents have compiled 310 rushing attempts and gained just 3.3 yards per carry. Steubenville allows 72.8 rushing yards per outing.

“Our goal going in will be to slow them down and limit their big plays,” Saccoccia said. “This year, we have not played any team that uses the wishbone.

“We did play them in 2015 (a 37-18 Steubenville victory), and they have the same type of offense and some of the same people. So, we do have something to go on.”

In that game, Clinton-Massie ran for 170 yards and passed for 147.

“Like I said, offensively they do what they do and we do what we do,” Saccoccia said. “Preparation is very important this week. But more important than preparation is how we perform on Saturday. We spent the week looking for ways to be successful against a very good football team. Hopefully, we are prepared to play and execute.”

Offensively, Big Red averages 286 rushing yards per game, 132 passing and 37 points.

Senior tailback Jacob Bernard leads Steubenville’s ground gain with 1,621 yards on 263 carries, an average of 6.2 yards per tote. He has scored 23 touchdowns. Senior quarterback Javon Davis has completed 140-of-207 passing attempts for 1,785 yard and 22 scores. Johnny Agresta, another senior, has 41 catches for 490 yards, while seniors Gino Pierro and DaJuan Jones have 25 and 23 receptions respectively.

During the regular season, Big Red was a fairly balanced offensive team. However, during the playoffs, the running game has taken over.

“We have to make sure we make every possession as close as we can,” Saccoccia said. “I think we’ve sacrificed speed for size.”

Bernard runs behind an offensive line featuring the likes of Quentin Moore, Marlon Lawrence, Reuben Saxon, Alijah Demitras, Keonte Holmes and Ty Arlesic.

The Big Red defense featuring Moore (the Division IV Eastern District Player of the Year), Lawrence, Kwadre Williams, Erik Lulla, Agresta, Jones, Jamal Petteway, Pierro, Alec Taylor, Jaziah Blackwell, Randy Mitchell, Andoni Demitras and others is holding opponents to just a 20 percent conversion rate on third down.

“That’s impressive at any level,” McSurley said. “We know what to expect from Steubenville. They are going to be extremely physical on both sides of the football.”

Saccoccia said earlier this week his 2017 club has added to the tradition of the Big Red football program with a third straight trip to the state finals.

“It’s a team that has improved as the year has gone on,” he said. “But, the only thing we have done through 14 games is earn the right to play in this game. We haven’t done anything else. We have just earned the right play.

“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.”