Big Red writes new chapter in school’s illustrious career
CANTON — The third time did prove to be a charm for the Steubenville football program.
Javon Davis threw for four touchdowns and ran for two more Saturday as Big Red outscored Clarksville Clinton-Massie 50-36 before 10,251 fans inside Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium to capture the Ohio Division IV championship.
With the victory, Big Red, which lost the last two Div. IV finales by a total of six points, secured the program’s fourth state title and finished the season at 15-0. Steubenville now has earned championships in three different divisions (II, III and IV).
“That was a great high school football game,” Big Red’s Reno Saccoccia said during his post-game press conference. “We beat a very strong, very well-coached, very physical football team today. These kids sitting here with me (six players joined the coach for the media session) played last year and they tried like hell to come out victorious but just came up short. They kept trying, kept climbing and kept fighting.
“In 1983 when I got this job, I put a sign up in our locker room that says our tradition was built by a lot of people. When we started this season, these guys were living on the tradition of the program but as the season went on, they added a piece of themselves. Now the 2017 team will be remembered with the great ones in Big Red history.”
Big Red’s initial drive started at its own 10 thanks to a holding call on the opening kick. Saccoccia’s crew, however, quickly marched 90 yards in just four plays to take a lead it would never surrender. The touchdown came on a 32-yard burst up the middle by senior tailback Jacob Bernard. He appeared to be stopped near the line of the scrimmage but broke two tackles and sprinted to the end zone.
Bernard also ran for 21 yards on the march and Davis hit Johnny Agresta for a 38-yard gain.
Steubenville then got a break on Clinton-Massie’s first possession when Christian Poynter couldn’t handle a pitch and the pigskin fell to the turf, Gino Pierro recovering at the Falcon 25. Davis found Alec Taylor in the corner of the end zone for a 19-yard touchdown.
The Falcons, who averaged 306 rushing yards per game, stormed right back on two big pass completions by Corey Stulz. First he hit speedy Luke Richardson for 56 yards then found Seth Schmidt for a 9-yard score.
Big Red’s offense moved right down the field again, Davis finding Taylor again, this time for a 26-yard touchdown. The extra point attempt was blocked and Steubenville led 20-7 after the initial 12 minutes.
Steubenville made it four for four with a touchdown early in the second quarter, coming a pretty 18-yard Davis to Agresta pass. The senior wide receiver stretched out for the reception and pulled it in with one hand. Ian Phillips’ kick made it 27-7.
“I knew I was open but at first I thought the pass was going to be overthrown,” Agresta said. “Then I realized I could the ball. I just went up wanting to make a play and help my teammates.”
On the ensuing kick, Clinton-Massie’s Garrett Trampler fielded the ball at his own 28, squirted through the Steubenville coverage team and raced 72 yards for a touchdown. He thus became the first player in Division IV history to return a kickoff for a score.
Big Red then got a safety when Stulz was called for intentional grounding in the end zone.
Following the free kick, Davis completed a pass to Jonathon Blackmon in the flat. The senior fullback cut back to the middle and raced 60 yards to the end zone. Phillips’ kick put Steubenville up 36-14.
On the last play of the half, Richardson returned a Davis punt 53 yards for a touchdown. A pass for the two-point conversion failed.
“We called a time out with 10 seconds left because we were looking for something to give us a spark,” said Clinton-Massie coach Dan McSurley. “Truth be told, we were really trying to block the punt. I think they were so preoccupied with keeping us from blocking the punt that Luke has some room to run.
“That return sparked us and it gave us some momentum going into the locker room. We came out in the second half and fought back. We just fell short.”
During the first half, Big Red compiled 309 offensive yards (187 passing and 122 rushing) compared to 113 for the Falcons. Davis was 7-of-8 passing and Bernard ran for 95 yards. Unfortunately, he was injured early in the second quarter and was unable to return to the field.
“There was adversity on both sides and both teams had to overcome adversity,” Saccoccia said. “We had a little less than they had. Most of our adversity was self-imposed. As bad as the end of the first half looked when we had a couple of kids go down with injuries and we had to fill in real quick before the half, I think it made us stronger.
“I think the situation helped show the coaches who were the real leaders on this team. And, we found out we had some real leaders on this team.”
Clinton-Massie struck quickly to open the third quarter. Stulz ran for 24 yards and the Falcons got 15 more thanks to a personal foul against Steubenville. A Stulz pass was intercepted by Pierro but Richardson forced a fumble on the pick and recovered at the Big Red nine. Tyler Beam then sprinted in from there. A run for the conversion failed.
With 4:29 left in the third, Clinton-Massie pulled to within seven at 36-29 on a 28-yard field goal by Derick Carlisle.
Big Red’s scoring drought ended on the first play of the fourth quarter when Davis, thanks to a very hard run, went 13 yards on a quarterback draw. Steubenville went with a squib kick after the score, Taveon Crawford recovering at the Clinton-Massie 46. After a 2-yard gain by Jamal Petteway, Davis sprinted up the middle for a 44-yard touchdown.
Clinton-Massie still wasn’t ready to quit. The Falcons marched right down the field for their final score, coming on a 3-yard run by Poynter. The drive was aided by a personal foul call against Big Red.
One final C-M threat ended on a fourth down sack by Big Red’s Kwadre Williams.
Big Red finished the game with 464 offensive yards on 59 plays compared to 233 on 46 for the Falcons. Clinton-Massie was limited to 114 rushing yards.
Davis threw for 213 and added another 111 rushing. Once Bernard went out, he became Big Red’s prime running threat.
“Javon had a beautiful game,” Saccoccia said.
“The success I had today was all because of my teammates,” Davis added. “I love them to death and couldn’t have done anything without them. We definitely wanted to win this one for Jake (Bernard).”
McSurley admitted Big Red’s offense caused some matchup problems for his Falcons.
“They had athletes galore,” he said. “I’ve done this for 32 years and you know when there are matchup issues. They were big upfront, probably the biggest line we’ve seen all year.”
Saccoccia was extremely pleased with the effort of his defensive unit.
“Our defense took away what Clinton-Massie does best, that is run the football,” he said. “We made them left-handed. They have a great receiver but the better our pass rush was, the worse pass was. In high school football, you want to stop the run and tackle the pass and I think we did a great job of that.”
“We had to fill our gaps and play physical football,” said Big Red defensive tackle Quentin Moore. “It was a matter of us executing what our coaches were stressing to us all week.”
As Marlon Lawrence, Moore’s teammate up front, noted the Steubenville defense “went out and did what we had to do.”
“Our coaches stressed to us all week that we had to get into our gaps that’s what we did.”
McSurley pointed out he was “proud of our guys and what they have accomplished. And, I’m proud to be their coach.”
“It just wasn’t our night,” he said. “I’ve said all along my greatest fear is getting beat by a lesser team. If you give everything you have and get beat by a better team, that’s all you can do and our effort was awesome. It wasn’t our night but that’s football. It doesn’t take anything away from what our team has accomplished.
“They (Big Red) played kind of the perfect game. They really didn’t turn it over. It was their night. They were back-to-back runners up and they may have had a little more experience than us. We had a great week of preparation but it wasn’t our night.”
Big Red’s appearance in the championship game was its sixth since 2005. Steubenville now has a 3-3 record during that span. Saccoccia-led teams have a 4-5 all-time record in titles contests.
“I asked our guys to play as physical and fast as they could,” the Hall of Fame coach said. “I told them champions have to get punched in the mouth, have bloody teeth and keep coming back.
“Clinton-Massie is a good football team. They punched us in the face but we fought. I’m so happy for our guys and I’m very proud of what they accomplished this season.”
Steubenville 50, Clinton-Massie 36
Big Red 20-16- 0-14 –50
C-M 7-13-9-7 –36
BIG RED: Bernard 32 run (Phillips kick)
BIG RED: Taylor 19 pass from Davis (Phillips kick)
C-M: Schmidt 9 pass from Stulz (Carlisle kick)
BIG RED: Taylor 26 pass from Davis (kick blocked)
BIG RED: Agresta 18 pass from Davis (Phillips kick)
BIG RED: Safety, C-M called for intentional grounding in end zone
C-M: G. Trampler 72 kick return (Carlisle kick)
BIG RED: Blackmon 60 pass from Davis (Phillips kick)
C-M: Richardson 53 punt return (pass failed)
C-M: Beam 20 run (run failed)
C-M: Carlisle 28 field goal
BIG RED: Davis 13 run (Phillips kick)
BIG RED: Davis 44 run (Phillips kick)
C-M: Poynter 3 run (Carlisle kick)
RUSHING: Big Red 46-251-3 (Davis 16-111-2; Bernard 12-95-1; Petteway 12-30; Blackmon 3-9; Agresta 3-8); Clinton-Massie 35-114-2 (Poynter 17-36-1; Stulz 4-33; Richardson 2-33; Beam 5-15-1; W. Trampler 3-1; Collingham 2-6; Wolfe 2-(-9)).
PASSING: Big Red 9-13-213-4 (all by Davis); Clinton-Massie 5-11-119-1-1x (Stulz 5-10-119-1-1x; Richardson 0-1)
RECEIVING: Big Red 9-213-4 (Taylor 5-83-2; Agresta 3-70-1; Blackmon 1-60-1); Clinton Massie 5-119-1 (Richardson 3-110; Schmidt 1-9; W. Trampler 1-0).
FIRST DOWNS: Big Red 22; Clinton-Massie 10.
PENALTIES-YARDS: Big Red 7-60; Clinton-Massie 6-44.
PUNTS: Big Red 3-39; Clinton-Massie 1-27.
FUMBLES-LOST: Big Red 1-1; Clinton-Massie 1-1.