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Big Red has plenty of history with St. Francis DeSales

PLOWING THROUGH — JoJo Brown and the Steubenville football team travel to Columbus DeSales on Friday. - Joe Catullo

COLUMBUS — A huge challenge — that’s how the head coaches view Friday’s Big Red at St. Francis DeSales football game.

The traditional Ohio gridiron powers will square off for just the second time in the regular season (they have played five times in the playoffs, and Big Red leads the all-time series, 4-2) inside Alumni Stadium, a 6,000-seat facility. The kick is set for 7 p.m.

DeSales (7-1), ranked sixth in Division II, Region 9, is riding a six-game winning streak. The Stallions opened with a victory against Dayton Carroll before falling to Division I Dublin Jerome. Since then, DeSales has topped Chardon Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin, Kettering Alter, Middletown Bishop Fenwick, Columbus Watterson, Dayton Belmont and Columbus St. Charles.

The 5-2 Big Red is coming off a rare Week 8 bye. In its last outing, Reno Saccoccia’s club dropped a heart-breaking 56-55 overtime verdict to National Christian Academy. Steubenville is fourth in this week’s Division III, Region 9 standings.

“This is a huge challenge for our football team,” said Ryan Wiggins, who took over the DeSales program in 2007 after a one-year stint at Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary. “I have great respect for the Big Red football program. Year after year, they are one of the best teams in Ohio.”

A DeSales graduate, Wiggins has guided the Stallions to three undefeated regular seasons (2007, 2008 and 2016).

“DeSales is a huge challenge for us,” Saccoccia said.

“But, it’s a challenge we have been preparing for the entire season. They are very physical and very well coached. They have speed at the positions where they need it and strength in their offensive and defensive lines.”

DeSales is coming off a 26-14 victory over St. Charles. The Stallions had three turnovers in that game, including two fumbles.

“I think we have played very resilient this year,” Wiggins said of his squad. “We’ve had three games where we came from behind to win in the fourth quarter. We need to do a better job with turnovers and penalties in order to play with Big Red.

“You know a lot about yourselves after eight weeks, and we have found ways to get the job done. Hopefully, we can clean up the game because every game from here on out is a big challenge.”

After hosting Big Red, DeSales will visit Columbus Bishop Hartley, the top-ranked team in Division III, Region 11.

Junior running back Quintell Quinn (6-foot-1, 185 pounds) rushed 28 times for 224 yards and a touchdown against St. Charles. Senior Jaylen Ball (5-9, 195) has only three carries for 29 yards because of an injury that leaves his status undetermined going forward.

Reno Godfrey directs the DeSales attack. The 6-1, 190-pound senior threw for 96 yards and a touchdown against St. Charles. Senior Owen Faulkner (5-11, 170) is Godfrey’s favorite target. He also looks for juniors Jordan Johnson (5-11, 160) and Kole Perrine (5-9, 160).

Senior Dante Fuller (5-11, 190) mans the fullback spot. He also will line up at tight end.

“Offensively, they have hard-nosed linemen with a hard-nosed fullback and a very good running back,” Saccoccia said. “They run a spread offense, but it’s like a power spread. They will spread out your defense but they like to run it right at you and smash your face.

“Their best plays are inside the tackles. They’ll go outside off those plays from time to time, but their favorite running plays are inside the tackles.”

The DeSales line features plenty of size and experience. The guys up front include junior Will Hast (6-4, 210), senior Frank Sciarroni (6-0, 230), junior Billy Cain (6-2, 250), senior Cole Potts (6-2, 285) and junior Owen Kirk (5-10, 210). Potts also anchors the defensive line from his nose guard position.

Offensively, the Stallions have scored 236 points, while allowing 184.

“They play a defense we haven’t faced yet this season with a three-man front,” Saccoccia said. “They have good speed on the defensive side, and they are physical.

“DeSales is a very good football team. They have played a really good schedule and have had success. They’re 7-1, and they’re rolling right now.”

Big Red’s offense, of course, is led by senior tailback Tayveon Crawford. In seven games, he has carried the ball 227 times for 1,586 yards and 22 touchdowns. He leads the area in rushing yards and rushing scores.

Senior quarterback Randy Mitchell has thrown for 834 yards and seven scores. Stone Biacco has 22 catches to lead Big Red’s receivers, while Luke Zorne has 16 receptions.

The Big Red offense is averaging 468 yards per game and 39.8 points. The defense surrenders 281 yards and 26 points an outing. Through seven games, Big Red’s defense has allowed just 319 rushing yards (45 a contest).

“They have a tremendous offense led by a top-notch running back,” Wiggins said of Big Red. “They are very well coached and are good up front. On defense, they are aggressive and physical.

“Big Red has played a tough schedule this season. They look poised to make another deep run in the playoffs. Like I said, it’s a huge challenge for us.”

Saccoccia said stopping the DeSales running game will be a key for his Big Red.

“We have faced similar competition to them, but we have faced a little more passing than they like to,” he said. “So, we really need to hunker down on the running game.”

GAME NOTES

¯ From 1994-2011, DeSales had a run of 18-consecutive playoff appearances that included two state championships and four runner-up finishes. Big Red currently is riding an 18-year run of postseason play.

¯ Big Red has won four Ohio titles and one came in 2005 when it beat DeSales, 28-7, in the Division III finals. DeSales has earned three state crowns.

¯ Alumni Stadium opened in 1988 and was renovated in 2005. It has 3,500 seats in the home stands and 2,500 on the visitors’ side. Artificial turf was installed in 2005 and updated in 2019.

The DeSales staff has three coaches with Steubenville connections. Mike Sciarroni and Dan Rotella are Catholic Central graduates. Greg Bahen is the son of Steubenville native Tim Bahen, also a Central grad.

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