STEUBENVILLE-Big Red and Maysville are on the opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to Ohio football playoff experience.
Reno Saccoccia-coached clubs have qualified for the dance 25 times (tied for fifth-best in all-time playoff appearances with Youngstown Cardinal Mooney). Big Red has a playoff record of 46-21 and its victory total is sixth best.
First-year coach Craig Clarke has the Panthers in the postseason for the initial time in school history. The three and six seeds will battle in the first round of the Region 11 tournament at 7 p.m.Saturday at Harding Stadium.
Earlier in the week, Clarke said playing Big Red in "Death Valley" will be an experience his players won't forget.
"It's going to be a great atmosphere for us to go into," he noted. "We're excited to go over there. I know one thing-our kids are ready."
The Panthers, who compete in the North Division of the Muskingum Valley League, went 9-1 under Clarke's guidance.
Clarke, who formerly served as an assistant in Coshocton, credited his senior class for spearheading the effort to adapt to a new offensive and defensive system.
The new offense features the Wing-T.
Wingback Jordan Hayes leads the Maysville attack with 980 yards on 165 rushes for nine touchdowns. He has compiled 1,093 all-purpose yards. Running back C.J. Harris has toted the pigskin 69 times, compiling 524 stripes and seven scores. He also has snared seven passes for 124 and two additional six-pointers. Harris also is a threat to throw the football, having hit on six of six attempts for 105 yards and four touchdowns.
Jacob Miller calls the signals for Maysville. During the regular season, he was 36 of 75 for 524 with three touchdowns and two interceptions. Wide receiver Justin Wilson has 24 catches for 326 yards and four scores.
"I've seen them on film and they appear to be a real steady ball club," Saccoccia said of the Panthers. "I didn't see them making mistakes or turning the ball over. They appear to be fundamentally sound with good size. Their kids look strong and they are well coached."
The Big Red, according to Saccoccia, hasn't faced a Wing-T offense "in a few years."
"We do have certain rules defensively against it," he noted. "We'll start from our base defense then try to figure out what they do best and what they like to do. Once those elements are determined, we'll prepare accordingly."
Defensively, Maysville uses the 4-4 as its base. The Panthers, however, do throw multiple looks at opponents, moving to a 3-5 or a five-man front. Harris has recorded 106 tackles from his linebacker spot while linebacker Dylan Evans has 80 stops and three interceptions. Defensive tackle Austin Knowlden is next with 53 tackles.
The 8-2 Big Red achieved one of its annual goals (hosting a first round game) thanks to a 21-18 come-from-behind victory over Akron Butchel. This playoff trip is the 12th straight for Saccoccia's crew.
"Our finish is good enough to get us where we are right now," Saccoccia said. "If you're 8-2, you want to be 9-1. And, if you are 9-1, you want to be 10-0. So, you're never really satisfied. Hopefully, us not being satisfied will carry into the playoffs.
"A lot of teams counted us out going into the Morgantown game. Our kids rose to the occasion and we played a great second half at Morgantown. Then, we played a good, physical four quarters against Butchel. What we have right now, we have earned. Sometimes you can go through the back door, but we earned the position we are in right now."
Big Red stood at 5-2 after its loss to Ursuline but rebounded, rattling off consecutive victories over Morgantown, Sir Wilfrid Laurier and Butchel.
"Normally late in the year, you are losing kids with injuries," Saccoccia explained. "We are getting kids back and that's a big reason for any of the success we've had lately.
"We went into the Morgantown game with five healthy offensive linemen. Now we have our full eight that we had at the beginning of the year. Just by our line being healthy and playing together, we've been able to create some chemistry and that's helping us."
The line's play has helped Big Red compile 788 rushing yards in its last two outings.
Dashon Redman continues his impressive late-season showing, rushing for 180 yards on 35 trips and a score against Butchel. On Big Red's 10-play, 77-yard scoring drive that started late in the third quarter, Redman carried the rock eight times for 71 yards. He powered his way in from a yard out for the score then ran for the two-point conversation to tie the game at 18.
He then carried the ball seven times for 37 stripes to help set up Luke Smith's game-winning field goal. For the season, Redman had 758 yards (411 coming in the last three weeks) on 140 trips and eight six-pointers.
"He's done a great job offensively," Saccoccia said about his senior. "But giving him more time on offense has hurt him a little defensively (Redman mans the middle linebacker spot for the Big Red). We moved him from fullback to tailback and moved (Kai) McClurg to fullback. Now that Teshawn Luke and Robert Hayden are healthy; we'll get them back into the mix at tailback."
Luke's ability to go both ways was hampered by an injury suffered in the Massillon game. Hayden returned to the field against Butchel after also being hurt against the Tigers.
"We feel we are going to be able to use Redman, Luke, Hayden, Michael Jett and Donte Brown," Saccoccia noted. "They're all capable, have the proper timing and the knowledge of our plays. We're in the situation where we can use them all full time on defense and go with whoever is the hot tailback."
Corey Stinson has compiled 1,056 passing yards for Big Red, hitting on 94 of 169 attempts for eight scores. Matt Petrella has 29 receptions for 387 and five touchdowns. Petrella returned an interception 70 yards for a touchdown against Butchel. Cody Saltsman is next with 13 grabs.
Offensively, the Big Red is averaging 323 yards (214 on the ground and 109 through the air) and 27 points per outing.
On the defensive side, Big Red surrenders 201 yards (66 rushing and 135 passing) an outing and 16 points.