Big Red falls at home

STEUBENVILLE – Turnovers and a failed fake punt did in the Big Red on Homecoming Friday at Harding Stadium.

Salesianum returned two first quarter interceptions for touchdowns and converted a late fumble recovery into another six points on its way to a 36-19 victory in the second ever meeting between the schools. The Sallies returned to Wilmington, Del. with a 5-1 mark while Big Red falls to 5-2.

Stephen Freeborn, a 6-5 junior linebacker, got the Sallies rolling when he intercepted a Dimitri Collaros pass on Big Red’s first possession. The toss bounced off the fingers of a Big Red receiver and into Freeborn’s hands. He sprinted 22 yards for the score. Matthew Sgro hit Liam McGivney for the two-point conversion.

Big Red rebounded from that mistake by going 80 yards in 11 plays on its next drive. Cody Saltsman did the honors via an 11-yard pass from Mandela Lawrence-Burke. Collaros kept the march alive when he ducked away from pressure and found Kai McClurg for a 22-yard gain. Lawrence-Burke also hit Niko Petrides for 18 stripes. The run for two was stopped short.

Steubenville’s defense then came up big, stopping Salesianum cold on its ensuing possession. Johnnie Blue dropped Sgro for a seven-yard loss to force a punt (the first four touches by the Sallies resulted in punts).

Unfortunately, the turnover bug flew in and bit Big Red again. This time, Salesianum’s tall defensive front tipped a Collaros pass and Freeborn got his second pick six, motoring 17 yards for a touchdown. Sean Smith’s kick made it 15-6.

Big Red would again bounce back, however, using another 11 plays to go 77 yards for a touchdown. Blue dove over from two stripes away. The big play was a 24-yard Lawrence-Burke to Bryan Pierro pass on third and long. The sophomore quarterback rolled to his left, stopped and threw a screen back to Pierro. The conversion attempt failed.

Bill DiNardo’s Sallies recorded another score just before half following the failed fake punt. Reno Saccoccia’s crew moved from its own 19 to the 43 (all 24 yards coming on Lawrence-Burke runs). On fourth and six, Saccoccia rolled the dice. McClurg took the short snap but could get just two of the needed stripes.

The Sallies made their hosts pay as they went 46 yards in just four plays. Sgro tossed the ball into the corner of end zone. Tyler Marroni, a 6-4 senior, went up and took the pigskin away from a Big Red defender for the touchdown. Smith nailed the conversion kick.

Big Red outgained Salesianum 197-107 in the first half, running 35 plays to 21 for the Sallies. Saccoccia’s crew also had 12 first downs compared to six for the visitors.

Saccoccia’s squad started the third quarter by running 17 plays to cover 80 yards, chewing almost nine minutes off the clock. Cam King kept the drive alive when he caught a tipped Lawrence-Burke pass for 14 yard gain on fourth and 11 at the Salesianum 21. Blue eventually plowed over from the four to record his second touchdown. John Paul Duff booted the extra point.

Big Red caught a break in the fourth quarter when Sgro was nailed by Robert Hayden and fumbled the football, Garon Lytle recovering. The hosts were unable to move the ball and had to punt it back to the Sallies.

Salesianum then marched 69 yards for its second offensive touchdown of the night. Troy Reeder scored on a three-yard plunge. Big Red would fumble on its next touch and the Sallies recorded the game’s final score on another three-stripe Reeder run.

“These kids played with a passion for four quarters and they depended on their coach with 40 years of experience to help them,” Saccoccia said. “I blew the game with that fake punt and that’s the end of the story.

“They played with a passion on offense, defense and special teams. I loved the way they played. We didn’t give them an inch until we were out of the game.”

Big Red ran 66 plays compared to 41 for the Sallies. Saccoccia’s crew outgained the Sallies 313-228. Lawrence-Burke finished with 63 yards rushing and 80 yards passing.

Hayden had an outstanding night on the defensive side of the ball for Big Red, recording two tackles for losses and holding Brian O’Neill in check during the second half. O’Neill, a Pitt recruit, is Salesianum’s 6-7 senior wide receiver. He had two catches for 28 yards.

Chris Starlipper, Pierro, Saltsman and Amir Richmond also recorded key defensive plays for Big Red.

“There were a lot of highlights on offense, defense and special teams,” Saccoccia noted. “The low point was my call. It should have never been made. Someone who has been coaching since 1971 should know better than that.”

Big Red will look to rebound next week when it travels to Youngstown for a date with Ursuline.