STEUBENVILLE - The start was ugly, the finish was a whole lot better and Big Red rolled to a season-opening victory Thursday on the new turf at Harding Stadium.
Overcoming three consecutive early turnovers (one resulting in a pick six), Reno Saccoccia's club combined a stout defensive effort with just enough offense to whip Washington, D.C., Woodrow Wilson 28-8 in the McDonald's OVAC Kickoff contest.
"Our defense played great," Saccoccia, who is now 27-3 in season openers, said. "They played lights out. We played hard and sound on the defensive side of the ball.
OPENER — Big Red quarterback Corey Stinson runs for positive yardage during Thursday’s 28-8 victory over D.C. Woodrow Wilson at Harding Stadium.
-- Ron Gardner
"We've got to get better in every phase of the game. We have to improve our conditioning and that will start tomorrow right after school. We can't have cramps."
The Big Red defense held the Tigers to 118 total yards (42 of those came on the final play of the game) on 37 plays. The visitors recorded just four first downs (the initial one coming with 7:43 left in the third quarter) and turned the ball over four times (three fumbles and an interception.)
Bryan Pierro, Cameron King and Mark Cole all had fumble recoveries for Big Red. Matt Petrella had an interception to go along with a key quarterback sack late in the second stanza.
"The defense had my back especially after my fourth down call that was one of the worst I've had in 30 years," Saccoccia continued. "We did a solid job on our blitzing but we missed way too many tackles."
After the defense recorded its first of numerous "three and outs," Big Red's offense started the initial drive of 2012 at its 39. Senior quarterback Corey Stinson found Pierro for a long gain but, unfortunately, the ball came loose and Woodrow Wilson recovered. A second solid defensive stand put the hosts back in business at their 49.
Two Stinson completions to Petrella and a nifty run by Robert Hayden placed the pigskin at the Tiger 20. On the next play, Stinson was pressured and floated a pass to the right side. Woodrow Wilson's Micah Harris tipped the ball into the hands of teammate Cedric Curry-Walker who raced 85 yards to paydirt. Scott Beumel hit Darnell Fox for the two-point conversion and Mark Martin's unit went ahead 8-0.
Big Red started the next possession at its 39. Relying on the running of Dashon Redman, Teshawn Luke and Hayden, Saccoccia's club moved to the Tiger 32. The turnover bug hit again when Hayden lost control after a short gain.
Pierro's recovery two plays later gave Big Red another shot. This time, the hosts capitalized.
They moved 43 yards in eight plays. The score came on a Stinson pass to Eric Robinson. Redman collected 20 of the stripes on two trips. Big Red knotted the score when King made a leaping grab of Evan Westlake's pass off a fake kick.
Big Red took the lead for good with 12 seconds left in the half thanks to Luke Smith's 32-yard field goal. His boot capped a 38-yard drive that was set up thanks to a short Tiger punt. Stinson's 27-yard scramble on a second-and-long kept the drive going.
Smith hit again, this time from 30 yards out, to start the third quarter and extend the lead to 14-8. This time around, his kick capped a 60-yard drive. Two huge third down conversions kept the Red rolling. Stinson went for 15 stripes on a quarterback draw then hooked up with Cody Saltsman for 31 yards on a perfectly executed screen play.
After a 47-yard return of the ensuing kickoff, the Tiger offense began to show a little live. Jeremy Dixon ripped off runs of 19 and 8 before Reginald Robinson found Fox for a 17-yard completion. On fourth and six at the Big Red seven, Dixon lost control of the football and King pounced on it for Big Red.
The Steubenville offense, however, failed to take advantage. Saccoccia went for it on fourth and one at his one 20 and Redman was stopped cold.
Fortunately, the defense rose to the challenge, forcing an incompletion on fourth and six at the Big Red 16.
Saccoccia's team put the game away late with back-to-back scores on just four plays. Stinson lofted a perfect pass to Petrella down the sideline for a 70-yard touchdown. The senior wide receiver had a step on the defender, made the catch and sprinted to the end zone.
Following Cole's recovery, Big Red scored in three plays. Luke went for nine yards, sophomore Donte Brown added 12 more and Stinson snuck in from a yard away. Smith was perfect on both conversion tries.
"Our conditioning let us down as did our execution on offense," Saccoccia said. "Our special teams didn't play up to its part. We have to fix our execution on offense, special teams and substitutions.
"Woodrow Wilson is a good football team but we made them better by turning the ball over."
The Big Red offense finished with 335 total yards (146 rushing and 189 passing). Stinson connected on 11 of 23 attempts for two touchdowns. In addition to his two field goals, Smith had a solid night punting the football, averaging 42 yards on two boots.
"I'm proud of the way they sucked it up," Saccoccia added. "I saw some guys stick with it late and I saw some guys that didn't. Our conditioning has to get better."
Big Red, which now holds a 2-1 lead in its series with Woodrow Wilson, will celebrate Legends Night next week when Cleveland Benedictine comes to town.
Big Red 28, Woodrow Wilson 8
Woodrow Wilson 8 0 0 0 - 8
Big Red 0 11 3 14 - 28
WW: Curry-Walker 85 interception return (Fox pass from Beumel)
BR: Robinson 9 pass from Stinson (King pass from Westlake)
BR: FG Smith 32
BR: FB Smith 30
BR: Petrella 70 pass from Stinson (Smith kick)
BR: Stinson 1 run (Smith kick)
RUSHING: Big Red 40-146-1 (Stinson 11-32-1; Luke 12-41; Redman 5-22; Hayden 5-28; Jett 5-13; D. Brown 1-12 Wilson 19-57 (Dixon 8-36; Adams 2-49; Robinson 4 (-25).
PASSING: Big Red 11-23-2-1 (all by Stinson); Wilson 8-18-0-1 (Beumel 4-13-28-1; Robinson 4-6-33).
RECEIVING: Big Red (Petrella 4-88-1; Luke 3-7; Saltsman 1-31; Robinson 1-9-1; Jett 1-29; Pierro 1-25); Wilson (Fox 3-36; Holmes 2-10).
FIRST DOWNS: Big Red 15; Wilson 4.
PENALTIES-YARDS: Big Red 3-15; Wilson 13-76.
PUNTS: Big Red 2-42; Wilson 5-21.
FUMBLES-LOST: Big Red 2-2; Wilson 3-3.