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Big Red on the road again

COMING OUT STRONG — Gaige Francis and the Steubenville football team will compete tonight at New Philadelphia, hoping to improve to 4-0. (Photo by Joe Catullo)

NEW PHILADELPHIA–For unbeaten Big Red, the second half of its 2020 season consists of three on the road, starting with a rare appearance tonight inside Woody Hayes Quaker Stadium.

Steubenville, which is ranked sixth in the first Ohio AP Division III poll, will be looking for a little revenge when it squares off against 2-1 New Philadelphia. The Quakers reeled off 21 unanswered points in the second half a season ago and left town with a 28-21 victory.

The kick for the 11th all-time meeting between the schools is set for 7 p.m. New Philadelphia holds a 6-5-1 series lead.

Coach Matt Dennison’s Quakers, who will be playing their first home game of the season, started with a 40-7 win over Canton Central Catholic before whipping Cambridge 41-10. Last week, New Philadelphia dropped a 31-24 decision to Canfield. The Quakers are ranked 15th in the AP poll.

Led by quarterback Baron May, who has moved on to Eastern Michigan, New Philadelphia went 10-2 in 2019 and won a first-round playoff game. May was injured in the final regular season game and missed the two postseason contests. Dennison welcomed back 18 letterwinners from that squad.

Senior Caden O’Neill is directing the Quaker attack this season. He filled in when May went down with an injury. In the loss to Canfield, O’Neill threw for 160 yards and a pair of scores.

He is surrounded by a host of talented wide receivers led by senior Caden Richmond. He caught 11 passes for 124 against Canfield and a score. Other targets are Drew Dummermuth and Ben Ward.

The New Philadelphia running game is powered by senior Logan Ortt and junior Reise Meechan. He had 69 yards in the Canfield game and Ortt 55.

“They have some different names from a season ago but the key people are back,” said Big Red coach Reno Saccoccia. “The quarterback had a strong end to the 2019 after May was hurt. They have two really good, hard-running halfbacks. They have better all-around receivers then they had last season when they featured multiple good receivers. No. 8 (Richmond) is a really, really good receiver, and we will need to know where he is at all times.

“Offensively, New Philadelphia is just real fundamentally sound at what they do. They are good at the play action pass, and their running backs are strong. If you cannot stop the iso running game, you do not have a chance of beating them. Up front, they have three very good offensive linemen back.”

Those linemen are center Connor Belknap and guards Lewis Feik and Justin Rimer. Joining them is rising sophomore tackle Cameron Clarkson.

“This is a very well-coached, very talented football team,” Saccoccia said. “Their offensive and defensive schemes are strong, and their offensive, defensive lines are solid. We are in for another huge challenge.”

When it comes to dealing with the short week, Saccoccia’s message to his players was pretty simple.

“Have fun–it’s on television,” he said. “We told them to work hard Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, then have fun on Thursday.

“That’s the script. That does not necessarily mean we will adhere to it, but that’s the script. We want to work hard mentally and physically early in the week, then be prepared to execute on Thursday night.”

Big Red improved to 3-0 with its 35-21 victory over Linsly. Sophomore tailback Tylik Sims came up big for Saccoccia’s club, rushing for 105 yards on 16 carries and scoring a touchdown. Sophomore Spencer Ostovich added 84 yards and a score, while senior Nate McShan contributed 54 rushing yards. As a team, Steubenville compiled 280 yards on the ground.

Senior quarterback Cade Kernahan had a solid game, passing for 133 yards and two touchdowns.

Offensively, Big Red is averaging 262 rushing yards per game, 102 passing yards and 34 points. Steubenville has run 209 plays from scrimmage, averaging 5.2 yards per snap.

Ostovich leads the running game with 304 yards and three touchdowns. Junior Rodney James, who sat out the Linsly game with an injury, has 126, while Sims and McShan both have contributed 123. Sims is averaging 7.2 yards per trip and Ostovich 6.5.

Kernahan has completed 28 passes for 290 yards and five touchdowns.

Junior Brenton Jones has seven receptions to pace Saccoccia’s club. Sophomore Ivan Buggs and senior Jared Roberts have five grabs each. Junior tight end Brandon Kinney has three catches, all producing touchdowns, while senior tight end Aaron Ferguson has hauled in two Kernahan aerials, resulting in two scores.

Defensively, Big Red is allowing 98 yards per game on the ground and 109 through the air. The defense has surrendered 41 points.

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