Big Red hangs on to beat Pinehurst

STEUBENVILLE – A pooch kick, a muffed punt and a gutsy run on fourth down helped Big Red hold off Canada Prep Football Academy 43-38 Friday at Harding Stadium.

The contest, which started 44 minutes late because the Raiders had issues crossing the border from Ontario, featured 748 yards of offense and wasn’t decided until Big Red sophomore Johnnie Blue bulldozed his way through the Prep defense for four stripes and a victory-clinching first down with one second left.

“When I say my prayers, I always ask did we take advantage of opportunities and protect the ball,” Reno Saccoccia said after watching his team move to 3-0. “For the most part tonight, we did. There are times when we take advantage and protect the ball and there are when we don’t.

“It’s something we work on and will continue to work on. I really feel tonight’s game is going to help us in the long run.”

Clinging to a 29-24 lead midway through the final period, Big Red took advantage of a huge opportunity when Prep’s Nick Bested muffed a punt attempt from his own 20. Senior Kai McClurg grabbed the ball out of the air at the 25 and returned it to the Raider 11.

Two plays later, junior Donte Brown plowed over from three yards out. John Paul’s Duff moved the score to 36-24.

On the ensuring kick, Big Red special teams coach Bobby Lamantia decided to go with the “pooch” and it was executed to perfection. Duff’s boot bounced off a Prep player and Dondre Brown fell on the loose pigskin at the Raider 33.

“That was Bobby Lamantia’s call,” Saccoccia said of the pooch kick. “He did a good job with that one. And, he’s always done a good job for us.”

Senior tailback Garon Lytle went up the gut twice for 27 yards, making it first and goal at the six. On fourth and one, McClurg bulled over. Duff’s conversion advanced the Big Red margin to 43-24.

The boys from Canada, who provided much stiffer competition than most Big Red fans thought, weren’t ready to call it quits.

They scored in just two plays. Senior quarterback Jake Marquette, who impressed with both his mobility and strong arm, hit Trea Ivey for 68 yards to the Big Red 5. From there, Marquette found the house. Bested’s kick closed the gap to 43-31.

Bested’s bullet kick bounced off a Big Red player and Prep recovered. Starting at the Red’s 49, it took the visitors just two plays to score. Marquette hit Raekwon Grant for 16 yards. He hit connected with Danny Petermann for a 33-stripe touchdown. Bested added the extra point.

Prep’s next onside attempt bounced out of bounds and Big Red started at its own 34 with 1:08 left. Dondre Brown was stopped for no gain, Donte Brown gained a stripe and Blue got five, making it fourth and four. That’s when Blue came through with his key run.

“It was a great game,” Saccoccia added. “They have a good quarterback, good receivers and their line did an outstanding job of pass blocking. That’s the name of that tune, but we were able to get the victory.”

Big Red struck first, scoring on its initial possession for the third straight game. The Red marched 60 yards in seven plays. Lytle burst through a huge hole for a 14-yard touchdown. The key play of the drive was a 38-yard connection between sophomore quarterback Dimitri Collaros and senior wide receiver Cody Saltsman. Duff’s extra point put Big Red up 7-0.

The Raiders came right back, covering 60 stripes in just four plays. Marquette hit Petermann on a 33-yard scoring strike. Bested added the conversion kick.

Big Red’s defense came up big on Prep’s next possession. On third and one from the Steubenville 46, William Harvey, McClurg and Arin Goldsmith combined to throw Brady Oliveria for a two-yard loss. A Raider fell incomplete on fourth down.

Saccoccia’s crew took advantage of the solid field possession, marching 52 yards for the go-ahead score. Sophomore quarterback Lawrence Mandela-Burke rolled to his right, stopped and threw back to his left, finding junior wide receiver Lucas Herrington. Herrington spun out of a tackle and reached the end zone. The pass and run covered 25 yards. Blue, who collected 27 rushing yards on the drive, ran in for the two point conversion.

A special teams mistake proved costly for the Raiders after their next possession On fourth and long from their own 39, the snap rolled back to the punter. Bested was nailed by Saltsman and Big Red was in business at the Prep 27.

Donte Brown ripped off a nine-yard gain before Lytle carried three straight times, scoring from six yards out. Lytle also ran for the two-pointer.

Prep answered quickly, going 80 yards in seven plays. The TD came when Marquette spun away from trouble and rifled a nine yard pass to Brandon Ihanza. Bested again split the uprights. It was 23-14 Big Red at the half.

Bested nailed a 21-yard third quarter field to close the gap to six. Big Red responded, marching 63 yards in eight plays. Donte Brown scored from three yards away and it was 29-17.

Prep closed to five early in the final stanza when Marquette scored on a two-yard sneak.

For the night, Big Red collected 360 stripes of offense (249 on the ground and 111 via the air). Donte Brown got 104 on 14 trips and Lytle added 95 on 15 carries.

“Our running game was solid tonight,” Saccoccia noted. “We have to learn to take what is given to us. We’ll learn that and we’ll be OK. I’m not going to get too upset over tonight. It was a great win.”

The Raiders actually finished with more total yards, collecting 388 (31 rushing and 357 passing), Marquette completed 19 of his 26 attempts for 332.

“On film his arm looked good,” Saccoccia said of Marquette. “He didn’t have to be as mobile last week as he was tonight. His mobility hurt us as much as his throwing. He has a great arm.”

Big Red will hit the road next week, traveling to Brooke for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff. The game will mark the eighth meeting between the schools, Big Red leading the series 7-0.

“I really want to thank our fans again for the great support they gave us tonight,” Saccoccia stated. “We’ve had three good weeks at home and the fans need to know how much the coaching staff and players appreciate their support.”