No luck needed for No. 1 Big Red, just solid efforts

GROUP CELEBRATION — Steubenville’s Jacob Bernard (25) celebrates with teammates after scoring a touchdown against St. Joseph’s Catholic on Sept. 8 at Harding Stadium. (Photo by Michael D. McElwain)

STEUBENVILLE — Reno Saccoccia and his veteran coaching staff are busy this week preparing unbeaten Big Red for 48 minutes of physical football.

Steubenville, which still leads the Ohio AP Division IV poll, will entertain always-tough Youngstown Ursuline Friday at Harding Stadium. The kick for the 15th meeting between the schools (Big Red holds a 10-4 edge) is set for 7 p.m.

“We’ve played enough Youngstown-area teams to know that win, lose or draw you’re going to be there for a solid 48 minutes of physical football,” Saccoccia said. “If you’re not up for it, if you’re not ready for it, you shouldn’t show up.”

The Irish stand at 2-4 following last week’s 38-26 loss to Aquinas Institute from Rochester, N.Y., which has won four of its five starts. Ursuline also fell to Cleveland Benedictine, Akron Hoban and Massillon Washington, all Division II clubs that sport a combined record of 15-3.

Victories have come over Youngstown East and Warren Harding.

“The schedule Ursuline plays really impresses me,” Saccoccia said. “The teams they have lost to have combined for 19 wins already. They play a meat grinder of a schedule year in and year out.”

After Friday’s visit to Steubenville, Ursuline will close with Boardman, arch-rival Cardinal Mooney and Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary. Saccoccia described the 2017 Irish as a very typical Ursuline team.

“They have very good athletes, good speed and a good scheme,” he said. “Plus, their offensive and defensive linemen are solid and strong, and we know they will be always be well-coached.”

Larry Kempe is in his sixth season as head coach at Ursuline. In 2016, his Irish finished 3-7 and was 8-6 in 2015, advancing to the Division IV state semifinals where it fell to Big Red.

“Offensively, Ursuline’s quarterback and tailback are really good, tough and physical runners,” Saccoccia said. “The offensive line does a very good job at the point of attack. They have some good receivers and the quarterback throws it well, but they would rather run than throw.”

The quarterback Saccoccia referred to senior Jared Fabry (6-2, 181 pounds). He is a three-year starter. The tailback is Joe Floyd, another senior, who stands 5-11 and weighs 210. Floyd had a marvelous first half against Aquinas, gaining 166 of his 209 yards. Senior Tyree Reeder (6-0, 232) also gets some carries but is primarily a blocker for Fabry and Floyd.

When Fabry does throw it, he has a host of talented receivers including James Phillips, Julian Johnson, Colt Jamieson, Robbie Sullivan and Duane Leggett. Senior Dan McCarthy (6-3, 210) sees time at tight end.

Along the offensive front, Ursuline has some major size. Junior Malcolm Joyner (6-3, 325) is the biggest linemen. Joining him are juniors Dan Henry (6-0, 264) and Louie DelColle (5-11, 254) as well as seniors Jason Bell (6-4, 230) and David Simon (6-1, 235).

Big Red improved to 6-0 last week with a 21-10 come-from-behind victory over Dover. Saccoccia’s club was down 10-7 before rallying for two fourth-quarter touchdowns, both scored by senior running back Jacob Bernard.

Through three quarters, Steubenville was plagued by turnovers and costly penalties.

“We need to fix the simple things we can correct, things like penalites and turnovers,” Saccoccia said. “At the same time, we must keep progressing with our technique and fundamentals.

“To me, fundamentals are really important as you get deeper in the season because not everyone sticks with fundamentals. I think it is very important to be fundamentally sound. That’s why we keep focusing on them. At the same time, we have to correct the mistakes that we can correct.”

Bernard finished the Dover game with 145 rushing yards. Since returning to the lineup in Week 4, he has compiled 486 yards on 69 trips, an average of 7 yards per carry. He also has scored seven touchdowns. Jonathon Blackmon is Big Red’s second leading rusher with 311 yards on just 28 tries and five scores.

Senior quarterback Javon Davis has completed 65 percent of his passes (69-for-106) for 996 yards and 11 scores. Seniors Gino Pierro and Johnny Agresta both have 18 receptions, Pierro averaging 13.7 yards a grab and Agresta 13.4 Blackmon has hauled in 11 Davis aerials for 178 yards. As a unit, Big Red’s offense is averaging 460 yards a game (292 coming on the ground and 168 through the air) and 38 points.

The defense, which drew praise from Saccoccia for its performance in the Dover game, allows 159 yards a contest and 13 points.

“Our defense gave us 48 solid minutes against Dover,” Saccoccia said.

The unit held Alec Sayre, Dover’s outstanding junior quarterback, to just 111 yards passing. Through five games, he had thrown for 1,409. He was picked off by DaJuan Jones and sacked four times, three by Quintin Moore.

As he prepares for the Ursuline game, Saccoccia said his Big Red is “as healthy as we can be right now.”

“After six games, we feel fortunate to be where we are physically,” he said. “We’ve been able to get a few kids back, and we hope to get a few more back before the end of the season.”