Big Red rolls on with 19-14 win over Mooney

ROLLING ON — At left, Big Red’s Gino Pierro returns a punt against Cardinal Mooney. (Photo by Joe Catullo)

SALEM — Big Red will play for a fifth consecutive regional championship thanks a second quarter point explosion and a huge final period defensive spot.

Steubenville, now 12-0 and the No. 1 seed in Division IV, Region 13, spotted Youngstown Cardinal Mooney a 7-0 lead Friday, then reeled off 19 unanswered points. It wasn’t until the defense came up big with less than a minute to go, however, that the regional semifinal triumph was guaranteed.

Quentin Moore pounced on a Cardinal fumble with 31 seconds to play, Javon Davis took a knee on the final snap and Big Red had a 19-14 win over Mooney at a jam-packed Reilly Stadium.

“I’m so proud of our players,” Reno Saccoccia said after Big Red collected just its second victory in nine tries against Mooney. “We dug ourselves a lot of holes tonight but every time we did, we were able to dig ourselves out. We made some mistakes but I’m very happy with the way things turned out.

“We were a very physical football team tonight and I knew we had to be against Mooney. We played fast and sound football. We had two turnovers that hurt and penalties that hurt us. But our kids love the game of football. They love to play football and they love playing for Big Red.”

Mooney, which drops the curtain at 7-5, got the game’s initial score on the first play of the second quarter. It came when speedy Chris Gruber went around the left end and sprinted 80 yards to pay dirt.

Big Red battled back and scored with 6:26 left before the half on a 1-yard plunge by Jacob Bernard. The conversion kick was blocked.

Saccoccia’s squad missed a big chance following the touchdown when a huge hit by Jamal Petteway separated a Mooney ball carrier from the football, Johnny Agresta recovering in Mooney territory. The offense couldn’t capitalize and had to punt it away.

Agresta’s second recovery on Mooney’s next touch led to the go-ahead touchdown, a 12-yard Javon Davis to DaJuan Jones pass. Big Red went for two but Agresta was stopped short.

Steubenville was right back in business as Ian Phillips’ squib kick was recovered by Lucas Koval at the Mooney 40. With 17 seconds left before intermission, Bernard plowed in from the 1. Phillips’ kick made it 19-7.

Big Red had two chances to put the game away in the second half, moving deep into Cardinal territory but both threats were thwarted by fumbles.

Mooney took advantage of the second turnover, traveling from its own 13 to score with 6:25 left. The touchdown came on a 30-yard sprint by Gruber.

The Cardinals would get one last chance, starting a drive from their own 17 with 3:04 left to play. They moved to the 39 and were facing a fourth and 7. Mooney connected on the front end of a hook and ladder play, but the ball was pitched wildly and Moore came through with the victory-sealing recovery.

Bernard finished with 194 yards for Big Red, which will face Perry in next week’s regional title game. Gruber had 158 rushing for Mooney.

Saccoccia brushed off a question about his program playing for a fifth straight regional title, noting “this is for the 2017 team.”

“This team is going for a regional title next week,” he said. “We’re going to start working on that one during the bus ride home. I want to congratulate this team on the job they’ve done. They played great football tonight now we need to clean some things up and get ready for next week.”

Steubenville 19, Cardinal Mooney 14

Mooney 0-7-0-7 — 14

Big Red 0-19-0-0 — 19

MOONEY: Gruber 80 run (Phillibin kick)

BIG RED: Bernard 1 run (kick blocked)

BIG RED: Jones 12 pass from Davis (run failed)

BIG RED: Bernard 1 run (Phillips kick)

MOONEY: Gruber 30 run (Phillibin kick)

RUSHING: Mooney: 39-210-2 (Page 19-31; Simko 1-0; McCoy 5-16; Gruber 11-158-2; Marchionda 1-0; Olesh 1-5; Santisi 1-0). Big Red 49-232-2 (Davis 7-32; Bernard 37-194-2; Blackmon 4-13; Mitchell 1-3).

PASSING: Mooney 4-9-21 (all by Page); Big Red 5-11-60-1-1 (all by Davis).

RECEIVING: Mooney 4-21 (Fire 1-6; Marchionda 2-11; Weaver 1-4). Big Red 5-60-1 (Jones 2-15-1; Pierro 1-13; Agresta 1-9; Bernard 1-23).

FIRST DOWNS: Mooney 8; Big Red 15.

PENALTIES-YARDS: Mooney 10-77; Big Red 6-69.

PUNTS: Mooney 5-39; Big Red 4-45.

FUMBLES-LOST: Mooney 4-4; Big Red 2-2.