State of Steubenville

Big Red clinches third straight trip to title game

SMILING — Steubenville’s Alec Taylor celebrates after Big Red defeated Shelby 35-22 in a Division IV semifinal contest on Friday in Akron. (Photo by Joe Catullo)

AKRON — Big Red earned a third consecutive trip to the Ohio Division IV championship game thanks to a 35-22 come-from-behind victory over Shelby Friday on Summa Field inside InfoCision Stadium.

With the win, Steubenville improves to 14-0 and will face Clarksville Clinton-Massie for the state title. The Division IV contest is set to start at 3 p.m. Saturday at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton. Clinton-Massie, 13-1, advanced with a 28-21 triumph over New Concord John Glenn.

The Falcons visited Steubenville in 2015 and Big Red, thanks to 500 yards of offense, earned a 37-18 victory. That loss snapped a 38-game regular season win streak for Clinton-Massie.

Shelby, making its first ever appearance in the state semifinals, concluded the greatest season in school history at 13-1.

Down 22-21 at the half, Reno Saccoccia’s club took control during the final 12 minutes, scoring two touchdowns and recording a couple of key defensive stops.

“Everybody thought this game was over at the half,” Saccoccia said. “Shelby is a very good football team and I believe we’re a very good football team. Nobody was going to quit in this game.

“We had another 24 minutes to go. Credit Shelby, they brought the bet out of us and we brought the best out of them. That’s what football is all about.”

The Whippets received the second half kick and immediately marched from their own 35 to the Big Red 37. On 3rd-and-14, Shelby quarterback Brennan Armstrong was picked off by Big Red’s DaJuan Jones.

“I just played my keys,” Jones, the senior defensive back/wide receiver, said. “I saw the ball in the air and just broke on it. It just felt great to be able to help my defensive teammates and get a stop that we really needed.”

Big Red did move into Shelby territory on its possession following the Jones pick but the drive was thwarted by a holding call and then a sack of quarterback Javon Davis.

Saccoccia’s defense forced a Shelby punt and the offense launched a go-ahead drive with 2:43 left to play in the third.

Thanks to 27 rushing yards by Jacob Bernard, Big Red moved to the Shelby 34. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Steubenville was hit with another holding penalty, creating a third and long. Davis collected three rushing yards, setting up a fourth and 12 from the Shelby 36.

Big Red executed a screen play to perfection, Jones hitting Johnny Agresta. The senior followed his blocks, cut to the outside and raced to the end zone. His touchdown put Steubenville ahead to stay at 27-22.

“That’s not a play we had run in a game this season, but we have gone over and over it in practice,” Agresta said. “My coaches all tell me to get back outside, get back outside. I caught the ball, looked to the outside and saw a big lane to the end zone. Everyone did their job on that play and we were able to get it done.”

The Steubenville defense delivered on the ensuing Shelby possession, Agresta and junior defensive end Kwadre Williams combining for a sack of Armstrong on third and long.

Taking over at its own 40 following a Shelby punt, Big Red moved 60 yards for the game’s final score. All the yardage came via the ground. Bernard found pay dirt on a 9-yard sprint. Agresta, who took several direct snaps on the march, accounted for 27 of the 60 yards and Davis 20.

Alec Taylor ran for the two-point conversion.

Erik Will’s Whippets would mount one last threat. Armstrong connected with Brady Hill for a 42-yard gain to the Big Red 35. Shelby drew a flag for illegal motion then Quentin Moore broke through to sack Armstrong. Following an incompletion on second down, Armstrong ran for four yards and another five was tacked on for a face mask penalty.

On third and 9, Devon Brooks ran for 6 yards, bringing up fourth and 3. Armstrong completed a pass to D. Brooks but Big Red’s Jamal Petteway came through with a big tackle to force a turnover on downs.

“There was no difference in the second half,” Saccoccia said. “They made plays in the first half and we made plays. They made plays in the second half and so did we. Our plays were just a little different. They were running plays, we played with grit and we were pounding the ball. We did what we do and they do what they do.

“They’re good and against good teams, you have to fight and play with grit. I thought our guys played with a lot of passion tonight.”

In the opening half, Shelby’s offense collected 206 yards (74 rushing and 132 passing). During the final 24 minutes, Big Red held the Whippets to 92 total yards.

Steubenville used a fast start to take a 21-6 lead but the Whippets responded by scoring 16 points during the final 6:57 of the opening half to go up 22-21. Ten of the points came off Big Red turnovers.

Big Red took the opening kick and moved 80 yards for a touchdown, it came on a 40-yard Davis to Jones pass. Jones was able to avoid the first Shelby defender then sprinted to the end zone.

“The defender came up on me pretty quick and I wasn’t really sure what to do,” Jones said. “So I just gave him a stiff arm to make sure he wasn’t able to bring me down. After I got by him, the field was wide open. It was a great way to get things going for my team.”

The Whippets quickly responded, going 70 yards on their initial touchdown. The score came when Armstrong hit Carter Brooks from 16 yards out. The conversion try failed.

Big Red struck again on its second and third possessions. Big runs by Jonathon Blackmon (36 yards) and Bernard (47 yards) highlighted TD drive number two. Davis dropped a 5-yard scoring pass over the Shelby defense and into the arms of Blackmon. The third six-pointer came on a 1-yard plunge by Bernard.

The Whippets needed just 40 seconds to respond. Armstrong connected with Carter Brooks for a 62-yard gain to the Big Red 6, then trotted into the end zone from there. It was 21-13 Big Red with 6:17 left in the half.

Shelby got ball right when Big Red failed to cover the ensuing kick, the Whippets recovering at the Steubenville 25. Armstrong ran for five before sprinting in from the 20. A pass for extra points failed.

Hunter Bishop’s interception of a Davis pass, the ball deflected off the hands of a Big Red receiver, put the Whippets back in business at the Steubenville 41.

Armstrong and Carter Brooks hooked up again, this time for 34 yards giving Shelby a first down at the Big Red 4. Armstrong was stopped for no gain and threw an incompletion on second. Steubenville then drew two consecutive penalties for jumping into the neutral zone and the ball was placed at the Big Red 1. The University of Virginia commit tried to sneak for the score but was stopped cold by the center of the Steubenville defense.

Will then opted to send Uriah Schwemley out for an 18-yard field goal which split the uprights, making the score 22-21 at the break.

“I really think that stop right before the half to force the field goal was the turning point of the game,” Saccoccia said. “Our defense did a great job of holding Shelby to just three points. I thought that stand actually helped us get some momentum back.”

Davis had a solid night for Big Red, completing 12-of-15 passing attempts for 166 yards and the three touchdowns. Bernard collected 152 rushing yards on 27 trips.

“I couldn’t have done it without my teammates,” Davis said. “The guys upfront played an awesome game. I threw the ball to our receivers and they made people miss. It was just a great team effort. We just all came together and we’re so excited to be playing for a state championship.”

Armstrong finished his outstanding career at Shelby with 183 passing yards and 72 on the ground.

“They are just so fundamentally sound,” Shelby’s Will said about Big Red. “They are good in all phases of the game. I honestly think they will be your state champs next week. I felt whoever won this game would be state champs.

“There’s a reason Steubenville has played in five straight semifinals. The loss hurts now and it’s going to hurt for a while but this group of kids are going to look back and appreciate what they’ve done.”

Steubenville 35, Shelby 22

Shelby 6-16-0-0 – 22

Big Red 7-14-0-14 – 35

BIG RED: Jones 40 pass from Davis (Phillips kick)

SHELBY: C. Brooks 18 pass from Armstrong (kick failed)

BIG RED: Blackmon 5 pass from Davis (Phillips kick)

BIG RED: Bernard 1 run (Phillips kick)

SHELBY: Armstrong 6 run (Schwemley kick)

SHELBY: Armstrong 20 run (pass failed)

SHELBY: Schwemley 18 field goal

BIG RED: Agresta 36 pass from Davis (pass failed)

BIG RED: Bernard 9 run (Taylor run)

RUSHING: Shelby 33-115-2 (Armstrong 24-72-2; D. Brooks 9-52; Hill 2-(-9); Big Red: 49-259-2 (Bernard 27-152-2; Davis 12-32; Blackmon 3-42; Petteway 1-6; Agresta 6-27.)

PASSING: Shelby 9-17-183-1-1x (all by Armstrong); Big Red 12-15-166-3-1x (all by Davis)

RECEIVING: Shelby 9-183-1 (Hill 2-47; C. Brook 3-114-1; D. Brooks 3-22; Schwemley 1-0); Big Red 12-166-3 (Jones 4-39-1; Pierro 1-7; Agresta 3-61-1; Taylor 1-15; Blackmon 2-30-1; Zane 1-14).

FIRST DOWNS: Shelby 13; Big Red 25.

PENALTIES-YARDS: Shelby 7-59; Big Red 11-88.

PUNTS: Shelby 4-33; Big Red 1-45.

FUMBLES-LOST: Shelby 2-0; Big Red 1-1.