Through the years, I have been fortunate to see a load of outstanding high school football games.
I was in the stands way back in 1962, the last time a Big Red team scored a victory at Paul Brown Stadium. I can remember, like it was yesterday, Keith Burke's touchdown catch giving Steubenville a stunning 20-15 win over Canton McKinley in 1967.
Then, of course, there was the 1984 Division II title game played on a beautiful November day, Big Red earning its first state championship on the field. I saw the heart-breaking double overtime loss to Akron Butchel in 1988 and witnessed the victories in the 2005 and 2006 state finals.
I have to say, however, that Friday's 24-7 win over Massillon just might rank as the best performance I've seen a Big Red team give. When the Tigers visited in 2009, they struggled to match Big Red's physicalness. They wanted to show things were different this year. Didn't happen!
Once again, Steubenville proved to be the aggressor, dominating the Tigers before a Harding Stadium crowd estimated at more than 8,500.
"They outplayed us on the offensive and defensive line," said Tiger coach Jason Hall after his team saw its six-game win streak snapped as they fell to 7-2. "Up front on both sides of the ball, they got after us on every snap."
The Tigers came to town with some pretty impressive offensive numbers. They were averaging 33 points a game, 304 yards and 14 first downs. Big Red held them to 107 stripes and just six first downs.
Massillon's offense was just 1 for 9 on third down conversions and went three and out six times. The Tigers ran just five plays in the final period and the first didn't come until the 2:26 mark.
William Houst, Bubba Costantini, Manard Reed, Devon Wicker, LeShawn Luke, TeShawn Luke, Robert Hayden, Dashon Redman and Najee Murray all had solid games for the defense. On the third play of the game, Houst bull-rushed his way in to wrap up the Massillon quarterback. As he was making the tackle, he managed to strip the ball away as well to give Steubenville the ball at the Massillon 31. Big Red scored six plays later.
LeShawn Luke sealed Massillon's fate with a late interception.
On the other side of the ball, Big Red was just downright tough.
"To beat somebody who's as tough as you, you have to come out and fight them," said coach Reno Saccoccia, whose team improved to 9-0. "That's what I tell our kids. You have to be able to go toe-to-toe, nose-to-nose with them. We couldn't out-athlete them tonight. We couldn't do that. ... Our game plan against a team better than us is we have to be tough."
That showed itself most dramatically in the fourth quarter, when Steubenville turned a 10-7 lead into a 24-7 advantage with a pair of scoring drives. The first drive, a 14-play, 78-yard drive, was capped when Jo Jo Pierro battled his way in from two yards. He got a second score from three yards away.
As Saccoccia noted, "we got some punishing yards in the fourth quarter." Pierro got most of those with help from LeShawn Luke and Redman.
Sporting its new Nike Pro Combat uniforms, Big Red rolled to 374 yards of total offense (183 rushing and 191 passing). The offensive line of Simon Saxon, Luke McCourt, Wicker, Charles Keenan, Michael Camilletti, Ryan Wood, Joey Nation, Pat Blair and Eric Robinson did a tremendous job of opening holes and protecting quarterback Marcus Prather.
"We have a first-year quarterback and a first-year offensive line," Saccoccia said. "This was the first brutal game they have been in. Now, there are no excuses."
Prather has really come on strong in the past three weeks, throwing for 659 yards and six touchdowns.
So, Saccoccia's 300th victory as head coach of Big Red probably will rank as one most fans may not forget.
"All 300 belong to the Big Red Nation," he said.
Big Red will host Tonawanda Cardinal O'Hara Friday, looking to go 10-0 for the seventh time in the last nine seasons.
Entering the season, there were loads of questions surrounding the Big Red. Saccoccia even referred to this squad as "green." I've watched this team grow, work hard and keep improving. On Friday, I watched it totally dominate the mighty Division I Tigers. Perhaps that's why it's easy for me to rank the performance as the best I've seen.