Big Red’s road mission simple but important

TAKING CHARGE — Steubenville head coach Reno Saccoccia leads his Big Red on the field before their matchup with Upper St. Clair on Friday at Harding Stadium. (Photo by Michael D. McElwain)

STEUBENVILLE — Big Red’s mission for Week 2 is pretty simple: “play 48 minutes of solid football.”

Fresh off a 37-7 victory over Upper St. Clair, Steubenville will travel to Morgantown Friday for its fourth-ever meeting with the Mohigans. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at Pony Lewis Field inside J.W. Ruby Stadium.

Morgantown, which advanced to the West Virginia Class AAA semifinals in 2016, opened its season on the road and suffered a 45-0 loss to North Allegheny.

In an attempt to properly assess the 2017 Mohigans, Saccoccia said he and his staff studied film of the opener along with scrimmages against Laurel Highlands, Pa. and Bridgeport, W.Va.

“I can tell you they played a really solid football team in their opener,” the veteran coach said. “In putting all three of their competitions together, you can see Morgantown is a good team. From watching the North Allegheny film, it doesn’t seem like the score should have been what it was, but things happen.

“We need to be prepared to play a solid game. We have to improve on our assignments both offensively and defensively. Our players know what they’re doing. We just have to get better at what we’re doing and do it in a faster manner.”

Morgantown coach Matt Lacy faced the daunting task of replacing several key pieces from last year’s 10-3 squad. The Mohigans lost their top running back and top two receivers. Then in July, quarterback Logan Holgorsen, the son of WVU coach Dana Holgorsen, announced he was transferring to St. Frances Academy in Baltimore. As a sophomore, he threw for 1,355 yards and 14 touchdowns.

Aaron Alvarez, a junior who stands 6-3 and weighs 195 pounds, now directs the Morgantown attack. In the loss to North Allegheny, he completed three passes for nine yards.

“Aaron has a nice arm,” Lacy said. “He knows the offense, he’s studied it and he can lead it.”

The Morgantown running game is led by junior Ty Konchesky (6-0, 187) and Jayron Wilson (5-7, 165).

When Alvarez puts the ball in the air, his prime targets are senior Drew Lowery and Matteo Darmelio.

Center Jaden Wolfley (6-3, 270) is the big man up front for Morgantown along with tackle Nick Malone (6-6, 250).

“I was disappointed with some of things we did and some of the things as a coaching staff,” Lacy said after the loss to North Allegheny. “We have to improve as well, but I liked our kids’ effort. They didn’t hang their heads and could have. It stings, but we’ll get better from it.”

Steubenville and Morgantown have not played since 2012 when Big Red rallied from a 14-6 halftime deficit to earn a 20-14 road win. Big Red leads the all-time series 3-0.

“It’s a tough place to play,” Saccoccia said of Pony Lewis Field. “I have a lot of memories about our trip there in 2012. Morgantown has added a great deal to the OVAC. They’ve made the conference better because they have a solid program (the Mohigans are the only conference opponent on Big Red’s 2017 schedule).

“We need to focus on going down there and playing a solid game. We have to be prepared both mentally and physically. Plus, we have to be prepared to play 48 minutes of solid football — that’s the goal.”

In its Week 1 rout of Upper St. Clair, Big Red compiled 483 yards of offense, 269 through the air and 214 on the ground. Senior quarterback Javon Davis had an outstanding evening, completing 13-of-19 passes for three touchdowns.

Dujuan Jones, Gino Pierro and Johnny Agresta all were on the receiving end of a Davis scoring toss. Pierro finished with four grabs, while Jones and Caleb Mitchell had three apiece.

Mitchell, a junior, paced Big Red’s ground game with 81 yards on 17 trips and a touchdown. Jacob Bernard, last year’s leading rusher, continues to nurse an injury, and it’s uncertain when he will return to the lineup.

Defensively, Big Red held Upper to 51 rushing yards, forced seven punts and recorded three sacks.

“I was real happy with the first game in regards to our enthusiasm and physical play,” Saccoccia pointed out. “You could tell our guys were ready to play a football game after two months of practicing against each other. But, we need to get better in a lot of areas.

“Overall, I thought we played steady on both sides of the ball. We really didn’t play exceptional in any area. We have to improve our kicking game. The kicking game involves a lot of timing and getting that timing just right takes time.”

When it comes to injuries, Saccoccia said Big Red “is like anyone else after two-a-days and the first game.”

“We’re banged up, but we have no complaints,” he added.

Big Red’s veteran coaching staff has a new face this season. John Arlesic, who was the head coach at Streetsboro High School, joined Saccoccia’s team. He replaced Mike Haney, who will continue to serve as the school’s head boys basketball coach.

Other coaches are Anthony Pierro, Joe Pierro, Gus DiMarzio, JoJo Saccoccia, Todd Filtz, Dan Filtz, Jason Kernahan and Brian Pruitt.

“Big Red has been blessed with a great bunch of coaches,” Saccoccia said. “I couldn’t be happier with the guys I’ve had on my staff and the guys I’m working with today. They’re hard workers and they take the job serious. They don’t complain about what they get paid or don’t get paid.

“I coach with a bunch of grinders. They grind, they find a way to get it done. They give our players the opportunity to be successful and that’s the best thing about coaching, giving your players the opportunity to be successful. You have to be as true to the players on the field as you are off the field.”

After Friday’s trip to Morgantown, Big Red will play three straight games at Harding Stadium before traveling to Dover in Week 6.