Big Red can solidify elite status with milestone win over Indian Valley in Region 13 championship

STEUBENVILLE – Big Red will be gunning for its 50th Ohio playoff victory Friday when it collides with Indian Valley in the Division IV, Region 13 championship game.

The 8-4 Big Red and the 10-2 Braves will square off inside Dover’s Crater Stadium. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.

Big Red can become just the eighth school to earn 50 wins since the playoff system began. Newark Catholic leads the state with 69 victories followed by Cleveland St. Ignatius with 65 and Youngstown Cardinal Mooney with 58.

Reno Saccoccia’s club advanced to the regional title game thanks to a thrilling 22-20 win over Maysville. Big Red is one of two No. 8 seeds (Delphos St. John’s is the other) still alive in the post-season. Indian Valley, the two seed, clipped Philo 7-3 in the semifinals.

“Our defense played lights out against Philo,” Indian Valley coach Matt Lancaster said. “It was a huge win for our program and community. We can’t wait to play in Week 13.”

Indian Valley is making just its third appearance in the post-season. The Braves, who defeated Bloom Carroll 25-21 in the quarterfinals, sport a 2-2 playoff record. Big Red stands at 49-22. Friday’s meeting will be the first between the schools.

Lancaster’s squad suffered losses to Akron Manchester, which is still alive in the Division V playoffs (the Panthers took care of Youngstown Ursuline in the quarterfinals) and Wooster Triway, which qualified for the Division IV post-season, losing to Kenton in the semifinals.

Indian Valley’s victories have come over Sandy Valley, Claymont, Garaway, Massillon Tuslaw, Canton Timken, Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy, Fairless, Tuscarawas Valley, Bloom Carroll and Philo.

“We have a great group of young men who have put in a lot of hard work over the years and they have been a pleasure to coach,” Lancaster stated. “I’m very proud of our kids and excited that their hard work has given them this opportunity to play for a regional championship.”

The Braves like to run the football. In fact, they average 326 rushing yards per game compared to just 69 passing. Indian Valley’s offense is averaging 29 points an outing.

Junior Jake Davis (5-9, 201) leads the IV ground attack. He has rushed for 1,833 yards. In the victory against Philo, he had 65. He established a school scoring record this season, breaking his own mark from a year ago. Davis, who has carried the football close to 300 times this season and fumbled just once, was named the district offensive player of the year in Division IV.

Senior quarterback Brady Byers, 6-4, 190, also has compiled more than 1,000 yards (he has 1,057). In the regional semifinals, he racked up 86. He also shines as a defensive corner and earned first team all-district honors. Logan Ryan, also a senior, has 862 stripes on the ground through 12 games. He paced Indian Valley in the Philo game with 122. Ryan, another first team all-district pick, also is Indian Valley’s leading receiver.

“They line him (Ryan) up all over the field,” Saccoccia stated. “They try to get him the ball as much as possible.”

One of the key players upfront for the Braves is junior tackle Brock Weber, 6-1, 240. He too was named first team all-district. Guard Richard Anderson, another junior, was a second team pick.

Kyle Contini, a 5-10, 200 pound senior, leads the Indian Valley defense. He also earned all-district honors.

Saccoccia called Indian Valley “a very good football team.”

“They played a very good schedule,” he continued. “We saw them evolve from game one to game 12. They have good size up front and their backs are strong. They really come off the ball and tackle well.

“Usually a team has one or two playmakers, but they have three or four. That will keep our defense honest. They are well balanced and very well coached.”

The veteran Big Red coach noted Indian Valley doesn’t “pass very often, but they pass successfully.”

“Because they run the ball so well, they try to get you to overload in certain areas,” he pointed out. “That’s when they look to throw.”

For his squad to be successful against the Indian Valley defense, which surrenders 19 points per game, Saccoccia stressed it must “eliminate penalties.”

“We have to eliminate our offensive penalties,” he stated. “We can’t cut down on them, we have to eliminate them.”

In its two playoff victories, Big Red has drawn 22 flags. Against Maysville, Saccoccia felt his defense “did a great job.”

“We held them to 150 yards rushing,” he pointed out. “They got points because of penalties against us on the defensive side. You just can’t do those things.”

Big Red, which fell in the regional semifinals the past two seasons, is looking for its first regional title since 2009. During its current streak of reaching the playoffs 13 straight years, the Red has captured five regional titles.

“Big Red has a very proud tradition, and we have a lot of respect for what they have been able to accomplish,” Lancaster said. “We know that they are going to be very well coached, their kids will be tough, and they will play extremely hard.”

Sophomore quarterback Mandela Lawrence-Burke had another outstanding game for Big Red in the win over Maysville. He threw for 204 yards and two scores while adding another 31 yards rushing. Junior wide receiver Lucas Herrington caught seven Lawrence-Burke passes for 133 stripes and both touchdowns (one covering 57 yards and the other 34).

Sophomore Johnnie Blue contributed 95 rushing yards and a score.

“It was a great team victory,” Saccoccia said. “But we make it so tough on ourselves.”

Offensively, Big Red is averaging 319 yards a game (192 rushing and 127 passing) and 28 points.

Tackle Chris Starliper, a 6-0, 270 pound senior, plays a key role in Big Red’s offensive success. For his efforts, he was named first team all-district.

Lawrence-Burke has thrown for 911 yards and 10 touchdowns. Sophomore Dimitri Collaros has 626 passing stripes and four scores.

Thanks to his performance in the Maysville game, Herrington, a second team all-district pick, now leads Big Red in receiving with 29 grabs, good for 420 and eight touchdowns. Senior Bryan Pierro has caught 26 for 359. The 5-6, 160 pound Pierro earned first team all-district honors as a defensive back.

Blue, who earned second team all-district honors, has 569 yards to pace Big Red’s stable of running backs. Lawrence-Burke has contributed 416.

Defensively, Big Red allows 225 yards per game (129 rushing and 96 passing) and surrenders 24 points.

Senior Jaylin Williams (6-3, 225) was named first team all-district for his play on the Big Red defensive line. Linebacker Kai McClurg (5-9, 175) and lineman Arin Goldsmith (6-0, 245) were second team picks. Both are seniors.

“The effort is always there,” Saccoccia said of his squad. “That’s why teams are in the regional finals now because they have played with effort, heart and desire.

“Now it comes down to the little things and for us, the little things are eliminating penalties.”