STEUBENVILLE - Ben Malbasa, the second-year coach of Cleveland Benedictine, has some very fond memories of past trips to Harding Stadium. He knows, however, his Bengals will need a quality performance in order for Friday's visit to be one worth remembering.
"Steubenville has been a very important part of my life," Malbasa, who guided Benedictine to a 7-4 mark in his initial campaign, said. "Growing up, I spent most of my school vacations and a part of each summer vacation with my Baba (the term used by Serbian families for grandmother).
"We visited frequently during the fall and one of my favorite games of all time was the playoff game against Wintersville in 1985 when (Julius) Shackleford caught the slant pattern and took it the distance to tie the game and send into overtime"
Big Red would go on to win that game 21-14. Ironically, the coaching staff and seniors from that 1985 club will be honored during Legends Night prior to the 7 p.m. kickoff.
"For us to be successful, we must stay sound in our blocking assignments in order to create the creases that can support big plays," Malbasa, whose father played basketball and baseball during his days at Big Red, added. "We must protect the football and maintain our composure in the environment that I consider to be the best in high school football."
The Bengals, who compete in the rugged North Coast League, dropped a 35-6 decision to Boardman in Week 1. Big Red, on the other hand, got two late scores to dispose of Washington, D.C. Woodrow Wilson 28-8.
Dan Piascik returns to direct the Benedictine spread attack. In 2011, he threw for 1,622 yards and 11 scores. Piascik and the rest of the Bengal offense did struggle against Boardman, compiling just 139 stripes. Piascik was four of 10 for 20.
Will Woodson, Demetrius Scott (two catches last week) and Jovon Dawson are Piascik's top targets.
Marshall Howell (6-1, 180) moved from wide receiver (he had 46 catches a season ago) to running back. In the Boardman game, he collected 86 yards on 17 trips. Jerome Baker also will get some carries.
Upfront, Benedictine is huge. The tackles are Jaylen Funches (6-5, 295) and Peter Cvijanovich (6-5, 275). Nick DiGeronimo (5-11, 240) and Thomas Bennett (6-2, 290) also start on the offensive line.
"What's important about those guys is their ability to move," Malbasa pointed out. "They're strong and athletic."
Big Red's Reno Saccoccia noted he is impressed with the offensive front of the Bengals.
"Their offensive line does a very good job," he said. "They are big, appear strong and very quick."
When discussing the keys to Friday night's match, Saccoccia noted his squad must "keep improving."
"We have to keep improving in order to beat anybody," he added. "They is we can't beat ourselves. We have to continue fighting through the tough times. When the going gets tough, we have to continue to be ready."
In its opener, Big Red rolled to 334 yards in total offense while allowing Woodrow Wilson to compile just 121. The defense surrendered just four first downs and caused four turnovers (three fumbles and an interception).
"I felt in the beginning of the game, we just weren't ourselves," Saccoccia said. "As the game went on, we managed to fight through the adversity of the first three or four possessions. Adversity can bring you closer together and I saw the kids grow closer as the game progressed. It wasn't a fun halftime, but it was a fun second half."
Senior quarterback Corey Stinson had a respectable showing against the Tigers. He completed 11 of 23 attempts for 189 yards and two touchdowns. He added 40 more on the ground.
Senior wide receiver Matt Petrella grabbed four Stinson aerials for 88 yards and a score. Senior tight end Eric Robinson caught the other scoring strike.
The Big Red cause got plenty of help from senior kicker Luke Smith, who booted two field goals.
"In addition to the points he scores and his ability to kick the ball, Luke is just a good kid," Saccoccia said. "I just enjoy being around him. He's worked hard and has really developed."
Saccoccia said Benedictine reminds him of Woodrow Wilson only with "a little more speed and athleticism. Their defensive line may not be as athletic but they are a tough football team."
Malbasa, on the other hand, called Big Red "an impressive football team that combines physicality on the line with exceptional speed."
"Based on film, their receiver play stands out, especially Petrella," he said. "Their backs are very consistent with the long tradition of work-horse backs who are able to run inside while also possessing break-away speed.
The Big Red backs (Teshawn Luke, Dashon Redman, Robert Hayden and Michael Jett) combined for roughly 100 yards in the week one victory.
"Preparing for Big Red's defense is particularly challenging as they move their front more frequently and effectively than any team I have ever prepared to face."
Benedictine leads its series with Big Red 2-1.