No. 1 Steubenville still striving for perfection

ATTACKING — Steubenville’s Jacob Bernard rushes against New Philadelphia on Friday. (Photo by Michael D. McElwain)

STEUBENVILLE — Big Red’s drive to regular season perfection continues Friday when Cardinal O’Hara, located near Buffalo, visits Harding Stadium.

Kickoff for Big Red’s homecoming game is set for 7 p.m. The schools will be meeting for the eighth time, Steubenville holding a 7-0 series lead.

Ohio’s top-ranked Division VI squad stands at 8-0 following last week’s 41-3 rout of previously unbeaten New Philadelphia. With a victory on homecoming and a Week 10 win over University School, the 2017 club would become the 21st Big Red team to finish a regular season undefeated.

Veteran coach Reno Saccoccia has guided 14 of his teams to a 10-0 mark, the last coming in 2015.

O’Hara will bring a 1-5 record to town. The Hawks, based in Tonawanda, N.Y. have lost to Baltimore Mount St. Joseph, Buffalo St. Joseph, Batavia, N.Y., Buffalo Canisius and St. Francis. Their lone victory came against Bishop Timon of Buffalo.

“They’re members of the Monsignor Martin Athletic Association, and they play a strong schedule year in and year,” Saccoccia said. “We started the series several years ago, and we keep it going because I’ve become pretty good friends with their coaches. I know they are pretty young this year (O’Hara has just four seniors on its roster). There are a lot of juniors and sophomores in their lineup. They’ll give you multiple looks on offense and run a base 4-4 on defense.”

Offensively, O’Hara, coached by Shaquille Dudley, averages 139 yards passing per game, 117 on the ground and 18 points. The Hawk defense surrenders 30 points per outing.

Junior C.J. Masters (5-10, 150 pounds) and junior Jermaine Haynes Jr. (6-2, 165) both have seen time at quarterback for the Hawks. Masters has thrown for more than 500 yards and six touchdowns, while Haynes has 140 passing yards and three scores.

Senior Nasir Benton (5-10, 185) has 27 catches to pace the Hawks. Junior Brandon Broadnax (5-11, 170) has compiled more than 400 rushing yards to lead O’Hara.

“We look forward to playing in this game every year,” Dudley said. “The atmosphere and game day experience are just so much more lively then we experience in New York. There is no better experience than playing high school football on a Friday night in Steubenville. I admire the history and strong tradition associated with that winning program.”

Big Red’s offense will enter the game averaging 439 yards a game (281 coming on the ground) and 38 points. Javon Davis has completed 68 percent of his passes for 1,248 yards and 13 touchdowns.

Johnny Agresta now leads Big Red, which leads the Division IV, Region 13 computer standings, with 27 catches for 343 yards. Gino Pierro has 23 grabs, while Jonathon Blackmon and DaJuan Jones have 12 each. Jones averages 21 yards per reception.

After missing several games with an injury, tailback Jacob Bernard has come on strong in recent weeks. He now has 702 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns.

Looking back at the New Philadelphia game, Saccoccia said it “was just our night.”

“We could play them 10 times and the outcome might be different each time,” he said. “That was our night. I thought we played our best all-around game so far this season as far as offense, defense and special teams go. Our overall performance was really good.

“The only bad part about it was the running clock in the second half. I just don’t think that should be in football. More coaches are professional enough to handle things without it. More kids would have received some playing time if we didn’t have and I think that would have been enjoyable for both coaching staffs.”

Big Red, according to Joe Eitel, Ohio’s computer rankings expert, already has clinched a home game for the Region 13 playoffs. Saccoccia, however, pointed out his team isn’t about to relax with two regular season contests remaining.

“Our focus right now is to get better every day and get healthy, both mentally and physically,” he said. “Being fresh, being healthy and being mentally prepared is very important for us going into the final two games of the regular season.”

As far as homecoming goes, Saccoccia took the time to “congratulate the girls that made the court and wish them the best of luck.”