Big Red back in the state semis
Thanksgiving traditions — we all have a few. There’s gathering with your children to watch parades, enjoying a holiday meal with your family, eating way too much then, of course, complaining, getting a jump on Black Friday shopping and settling into your favorite chair for some football.
Veteran coach Reno Saccoccia probably enjoys all those things. There’s one tradition, however, he likes even more — practicing for a playoff game on Turkey Day!
For the fourth straight year, Saccoccia and his Big Red will gather inside Harding Stadium on Thanksgiving morning to prepare for a Division IV semifinal game.
Fresh off a hard-fought 29-15 victory over Shelby in the Region 15 championship game, Big Red, 12-1, will square off with unbeaten Perry on Friday inside Boardman’s New Spartan Stadium. The final four kick is set for 7:30 p.m.
“Practicing on Thanksgiving — that’s beautiful,” Saccoccia said during a recent interview. “That’s probably the goal of every coach in Ohio. It’s one of our goals every year.”
Several Big Red players were quick to agree with their coach’s feelings about Thanksgiving practice.
“The goal of every senior football player is to practice on Thanksgiving morning and we get to do that,” linebacker Ny’Juan Robinson stated following the win over Shelby. “Our goal is to get back to the state championship game, but win it this time. There’s still a lot of work to do.”
Senior linebacker Jalen McGhee and junior wide receiver Alec Taylor called Thanksgiving practice “a blessing.”
“It’s a blessing that we are able to get up Thanksgiving morning and practice,” McGhee said.
Taylor, who scored on an 85-yard pass from Javon Davis, noted “it’s going to be great to wake up Thanksgiving morning and go to practice. Other teams don’t get that opportunity. It’s a blessing.”
Like Robinson, senior linebacker Zane Zimish knows the Big Red still has some work ahead of it.
“People always ask what you did your senior year,” he commented. “I can say we were regional champions and we got to practice Thanksgiving morning. Our goal is to be state champions, but we have a lot of work ahead of us.”
Big Red, which will be the home team Friday, is very familiar with the Boardman facility. Saccoccia’s crew punched its ticket to the 2015 Division IV championship game by taking down Youngstown Ursuline inside New Spartan Stadium. Steubenville also played a regular season game there this year.
Friday’s meeting will be the second between Steubenville and Perry, located in Lake County. Big Red topped the Pirates 35-17 in the 2008 regional championship game.
With the victory over Shelby, Steubenville improved its all-time playoff record to 60-25. The Big Red has made 16 straight trips to the post-season and will be playing in the semifinals for the 17th time.
Perry, on the other hand, is making its first ever trip to the Final Four. The Pirates are one of four newcomers to the semifinals.
The others are Powell Olentangy Liberty in Division I, Whitehouse Anthony Wayne in Division II and Canal Winchester Harvest Prep in Division VII.
Perry, which is a member of the Chagrin Valley Conference, scored 14 points in the fourth quarter to pull away from Chardon Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin for a 22-9 in the Region 13 championship game.
“For our community, it’s unbelievable,” Perry coach Matt Rosati told www.cleveland.com when discussing the semifinal berth. “We’ve never been to a Final Four ever before, so to be 13-0 and get to play in a Final Four means everything to our community and our school.”
During the regular season, the 13-0 Pirates defeated Painesville Riverside, Lyndhurst Brush, Madison, Beachwood, Wickliffe, Chagrin Falls, Geneva, Orange, West Geauga and Painesville Harvey. The Pirates knocked off Parma Holy Name and Woodridge before clipping NDCL.
Perry is in the playoffs for the 13th time and has an all-time record of 8-12.
The Steubenville-Perry survivor will face either Columbus Bishop Hartley, the defending D IV champ, or Kettering Alter in the state title game.
For Big Red, Perry represents a third straight opponent with a high-octane offensive attack.
The Pirates average nearly 400 yards per game and 42 points.
Kolston Brewster directs the Perry attack. The 6-3, 200 pound junior has thrown for 2,651 yards and 24 touchdowns. He’s been picked off six times.
In the Region 13 championship game, Brewster passed for 221 yards and a score.
Andrew Foley has 64 receptions for 1,220 yards and 13 six pointers. Jacob Allen and Jacob Peteritis have 40 grabs each and Josh Petruccelli has 29.
Petruccelli spearheads the Perry run attack. He’s toted the leather 226 times for 1,249 yards and 26 touchdowns. His 50-yard scoring run with a minute left sealed the victory against NDCL.
Can’t do it:
Johnny Agresta’s 88 yard catch and score just before the half certainly made a huge difference in Big Red’s victory over Shelby.
The Whippets were driving for what could have been a go-ahead touchdown when Charles Reeves put a nasty hit on the Shelby quarterback. The ball popped into the air, Agresta grabbed it and raced down the sidelines for a touchdown.
“Instead of going up 14-7, you’re doing down 15-7,” Shelby coach Erik Will told The Mansfield New Journal. “You’d like to think you can recover from that, but it was a huge play in the game for them and a momentum swing.
“We had established ourselves (before the fumble return) and we actually felt good, but you can’t give a team like that a scoop and score from 80 yards, you can’t do that.”
Since 2013, the time slots for the Ohio championship games are not announced until the week of the state semifinals.
Some years, the championship schedule is announced mid-week, but the OHSAA also can wait until after the semifinals are played.
Of the divisions that play on Friday nights during the playoffs (I, II, IV and VI), one will be selected to play its state championship game at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 1.
Big Red’s defense recorded seven sacks in the Region 15 title tilt and held Shelby, which came in averaging more than 40 points a game, to just 15.
Devon Brooks, Shelby’s junior running back, has compiled more than 2,000 yards through the first 12 weeks. Steubenville held him in check as Brooks could manage a net nine yards on eight carries.
Robinson led Big Red with three sacks while McGhee, Marlon Lawrence, Quentin Moore and Ryan Bernard had one each.
“They kicked our butt up front, our offensive line got a little bit of a lesson tonight,” Will stated.
In good hands:
Veteran coach Tony Filberto feels the Weir High program is “in good hands” going forward.
“We’re in good hands. We have seven kids back on defense and I have good, young kids ready to play,” he said after Saturday’s 30-15 loss to Fairmont Senior in the West Virginia Class AA quarterfinals.
“We’re going to be a good football team for a lot of years to come. We’re heading in the right direction.”
Final 4 experience:
Newark Catholic will be making its state-record 25th appearance in the Ohio Final Four this week. It also owns state records for the most years in the playoffs (35) and most playoff wins (72).
Big Red now is tied for second when it comes to reaching the semifinals. Steubenville has 17 appearances as does Mogadore and Youngstown Cardinal Mooney.
Four defending Ohio champions have advanced to the state semifinals, after all seven of them made to the regional finals.
The four to advance include Cincinnati LaSalle (D II), Akron Archbishop Hoban (D III), Hartley and Coldwater (D V).
Three 2015 kingpins fell in the regional finals, including Lakewood St. Edward (D I), Kirtland (D VI) and Fort Recovery (D VII).
The senior members of Weir’s football team ended their careers with 26 victories and three consecutive trips to the playoffs.
“Two times in the history of Weir High has a team made the playoffs three-straight times’ Filberto told the Herald- Star’s Matt Peaslee.
“The ’03, ’04 and ’05 teams and this group right here. These seniors have a lot to be proud of.
“Everybody has injuries in this game and we had our share of them. We just didn’t talk about the injuries like a lot of other people did. Our kids picked up the pieces.
“It was next man up and we had guys ready to get there and make an impact. We played a lot of good football.”
Just a fan:
Former Big Red coach Bill Bohren, now 82 years young, has resigned as the head football coach of Southington High School in Trumbull County.
He guided the Wildcats for two seasons and his 2016 squad went 4-6.
“I’m just stepping aside for personal reasons, there really wasn’t anything within the program or the school that prompted the decision,” Bohren told The Youngstown Vindicator last week. “I just felt like it was time to walk away. For the time being, I’m just going to sit back, relax and play things by ear. I’m going to watch some games as a fan.”
Bohren began his high school coaching career in 1965.
Tough on run:
Weir’s defense was tough against the run all season. In Saturday’s lost to Fairmont Senior, the Red Riders held the Polar Bears to negative five rushing yards during the second half.
Through 12 games, Weir’s defense allowed 863 yards on the ground, an average of 72 per game.
“The defense played great,” Filberto said following the defeat.
Only nine of the 28 No. 1 seeds won regional championships in the Ohio playoffs.
Last week, 15 of the 28 had advanced to the regional finals.
The state semifinals by regional seed include nine No. 1 seeds (Perry included), three No. 2 seeds (Big Red is one of the two), six No. 3 seeds, four teams that began seeded fourth, four number five seeds and two No. 7 seeds (Trotwood Madison in Division II and Harvest Prep in Division VII).
In addition, 31 undefeated teams entered the playoffs, six now remain.
The stat line:
When everything was said and done inside Massillon’s Paul Brown Tiger Stadium Friday, Shelby had numerous wins in the statistical battle with Big Red.
The Whippets ran 70 offensive plays compared to 53 for Steubenville and outgained the victors 367 yards to 337. Shelby had 23 first downs to Big Red’s 16. The boys from Richland County were seven of 14 on third down conversions and held the ball for 25:54 compared to 22:06 for Big Red.
Shelby did fumble the football six times, losing three and was just two of five on trips into the red zone. One visit ended with a missed field, one with a fumble and the third with a sack by McGhee.
Steubenville’s seven sacks resulted in the loss of 36 yards. Big Red also had several tackles for losses, costing Shelby another 37 yards.
¯ 126, Donavan Spencer, Weir High
¯ 97, Jacob Bernard, Big Red, touchdown
¯ 90, Dom Murphy, Weir High, 2 touchdowns
¯ 235, Javon Davis, Big Red, 14 of 23, 2 scores
¯ 5, Charles Reeves, Big Red, 52
¯ 3, Nick Scott, Big Red, 45
(Sports Editor Mike Mathison contributed to this story.)