Members of the Steubenville High School football team and cheerleaders are all smiles after the trophy presentation following the team’s 50-36 victory over Clinton-Massie to capture the 2017 Division IV state championship. - Michael D. McElwain

STEUBENVILLE — The hugs and smiles could be seen everywhere in Harding Stadium Saturday night as thousands of Steubenville High School fans cheered and clapped for the 2017 Big Red state champions.

High School Athletic Director Lynn Meyer served as the emcee for the welcome party, giving directions to the Big Red band and cheerleaders before handing the microphone to Head Coach Reno Saccoccia.

“We are going to keep this short tonight because these boys have homework to do tonight,” Saccoccia said to a swell of laughter from the stands.

Saccoccia went on to thank the team, his coaches, the band and cheerleaders as well as the students and staff before instructing his players to face the crowd and sing the school’s alma mater.

“Have fun tonight and be careful going home,” he added.

“I asked you for 48 minutes of full football and you responded,” announced Steubenville City Manager and 1969 Big Red graduate Jim Mavromatis.

“This is a great night for the school, the city and the entire county. A perfect season capped off by a great game between two very good football teams. I am very proud of these players, the coaching staff and the citizens who made the trip to Canton today. To see the crowd on the Big Red side of the field was truly amazing,” said Mavromatis.

“I told you I would bring home champions today and I did. These guys played one heck of a football game and hey are the best,” noted Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla.

Steubenville City Schools Superintendent Melinda Young cited the community support for the team.

“Everyone is so excited. It has been a long season and today was the final reward for all the hard work the players and the coaches put into this season. It is great to be in Harding Stadium with all of the fans tonight and I know Monday will be a special day at the high school. The school board is to be commended for supporting our coaches and players as well as our entire staff and our students,” declared Young.

Greg Agesta has watched the team develop this year from the unique perspective as a member of the board of education and the father of Johnny Agresta, a senior wide receiver.

“No one sees the long hours the coaches and players commit to the program. Their dedication to Big Red is amazing. This is a very special place. Yes, when running back Jacob Bernard went down in the second quarter it took the wind out of us initially. But the seniors are so close they picked each other up and responded. They simply would not quit. What a testament to the players and the coaches they had the will to come back from that moment,” remarked Agresta.

“I asked my son what it felt like to be an all-Ohio honorable mention and a state champion after the game and he said, ‘words couldn’t describe his feelings at that moment’,” related Agresta.

But others at Harding Stadium Saturday night had the words to describe their sheer joy.

“This was an awesome day. The last couple of years were heartbreakers. But they made this game even more specials. We are very happy for the team, the coaches and everyone associated with this wonderful program,” said Ronnie Tombs who traveled to Canton with her husband Saturday and then back to Harding Stadium Saturday night.

According to Walter Leyland,” it was a perfect day in a beautiful stadium. After the last two years I am a very happy man tonight. I was here after Big Red won the first state championship and now I am back for the fourth state championship. What a legacy.”

“It was a fantastic game with ups and downs throughout the afternoon. I never thought the game was in doubt but it was an exciting battle between two great teams. These boys wanted the championship this year and proved they would never quit until they had it,” commented Bob Kocher.

“Sheriff Abdalla promised us a championship at the Friday night pep rally and it happened. It was time for Big Red to win it all and the sheriff was right on the money,” stated Mohammed Hassam.

“This was the best competitive game I have seen for the past decade,” said Don Carnahan.

“Today was an all team effort and Big Red delivered when they had to. I didn’t want to see Jacob Bernard go down but he is a tough kid. I am very proud of what we all saw today. The best team won today,” said Carnahan.

(Gossett can be contacted at dgossett@heraldstaronline.com.)