Big Red dances to the Final 4

DOVER – Friday night at Dover’s Crater Stadium, Steubenville Big Red left Indian Valley feeling “Blue”.

Led by sophomore running back Johnnie Blue, Big Red topped the Braves 17-14 to claim the Division IV, Region 13 championship and a trip to face Youngstown Cardinal Mooney in the state semifinals in Week 14.

“The thing that I was most pleased with besides that we played with a passion was that kids on the sideline that were injured and should have been starting that were into the game,” said Big Red head coach Reno Saccoccia. “They were into the game, and everyone helped in the way they could help tonight.”

Trailing 14-10 with 3:06 remaining in the third quarter, Big Red went on a seven play, 78-yard drive, culminating with a seven-yard Blue touchdown run. John Paul Duff put home the extra point for the 17-14 lead with 14 seconds remaining in the third quarter. Blue had runs of 24, 12, and six yards on the drive as well.

“The offense did a great job today,” said Saccoccia. “At times I think they were playing us real wide and our quarterback (Mandela Lawrence-Burke) did a great job of picking his plays.”

Blue made his presence felt on the defensive side on the ensuing drive. The Braves faced third and 15 from the Big Red 47 when Blue came through with a sac of Indian Valley quarterback Brady Byers for an 11-yard loss to force a punt.

Big Red looked to be on its way to closing things out on the following possession, driving to the Braves’ 34 on seven plays. Unfortunately a holding penalty paired with a personal foul call sent the ball all the way back to the Big Red 42 and forced a punt three plays later.

“I thought we moved the ball well the whole game,” said Saccoccia. “It was our best offensive output the whole playoffs, but we almost killed ourselves with that 25-yard penalty. We lead the country in 25-yard penalties.”

The Big Red defense was up to the task though, and, with Indian Valley facing fourth and eight, Blue hit Byers for his second sack, this time causing a fumble that was recovered by Arin Goldsmith.

Two Lawrence-Burke kneels later Big Red was hoisting the regional title.

“I know there’s a guy named Lazarus, but I think we beat him,” said Saccoccia of his team’s unlikely voyage to becoming regional champs. “After week nine they were throwing on the last shovel and I think it broke. I think the only reason we’re still around is the shovel broke.”

Big Red opened the game with a 15-play, 67-yard, five minute drive that saw Lawrence-Burke go in from five yards out.

With the game tied, kicker John Paul Duff put Big Red up 10-7 with a 33-yard field goal in the second quarter.

“I should be hung by the highest tree for not using him more, but I’m just not a kicking guy I guess,” said Saccoccia. “He’s a clutch player.”

The Big Red defense gave up a pair of touchdowns in the second quarter to Indian Valley running back Jake Davis, but the Eastern District offensive player of the year was held to just 48 yard on the ground along with one yard receiving. The Brave managed just 175 yards of total offense on the evening.

“I don’t know anything about stats,” said Saccoccia. “I was always told stats are for losers. All I know is the first half we didn’t tackle well. The second half we shut them out.”

Blue led the Big Red offensive charge with 21 carries for 178 yards and the game-winning score. Big Red ended the game with 288 yards of offense.

“I just want to thank our fans,” said Saccoccia. “They’ve stuck with us and it’s going to be a great weekend.”