State champs honored at banquet

BIG RED HONOREES — Big Red held its 77th-annual football banquet Sunday in the Crimson Commons. Among those receiving awards were from left, seated, Jamal Petteway, Alec Taylor, Johnny Agresta, Javon Davis and Gino Pierro; and standing, Jacob Bernard, Tyler Ely, Marlon Lawrence, Alijah Demitras, Quentin Moore, Reuben Saxon and Jonathon Blackmon. -- Ed Looman

STEUBENVILLE — Big Red celebrated its championship season during the 77th-annual football banquet held Sunday in the Crimson Commons.

“A year ago, I asked the entire Big Red family to keep working, keep fighting and keep clawing in order to bring a state championship back to 420 N. Fourth St.,” veteran coach Reno Saccoccia said during the event, sponsored by the school’s boosters club. “We knew it wouldn’t be easy and we didn’t want it to be easy.

“We made a promise last year. We knew we’d have to fight and grind until we finish number one. These seniors helped lead the way and we made good on the promise.

The 2017 Big Red became the third team in program history to go 15-0 when it took down Clinton-Massie 50-36 in the Division IV championship game.

“We set our goal too short this year,” Saccoccia said in 2016 after his Big Red finished at 13-2 and fell for the second consecutive season to Columbus Bishop Hartley in the D IV title tilt. “Our goal next year is to win it. Let’s get busy starting tomorrow and let’s get it next year.”

The championship was Big Red’s fourth all-time and its first in Division IV. Steubenville’s first championship season, 1984, produced a D II crown. In 2005 and 2006 (both of those teams also finished at 15-0), Big Red captured Division III titles.

By winning in D IV, Big Red became only the sixth Ohio school to capture football championships in three different divisions.

“The 2017 Big Red football team has joined only three other teams as the best in the state,” Saccoccia said. “No one traveled a tougher road than we did this year.

“We faced Youngstown Cardinal Mooney, which has dominated three different divisions for the last 20 years, and won 19-14. Perry waited 350 days for a rematch with us. Perry has a two-year record of 25-2, both losses coming to us. Shelby ended the last two seasons at 24-3, two of those losses were to us.

“Clinton-Massie won state championships in 2012 and 2013 and has had three losses in the last two years, one coming to us. I want our players to know their coaches, community and families appreciate the effort they gave. Congratulations to our players on being state champions and Roll Red Roll!”

During the event, numerous awards were handed out, including:

¯ Drs. Press/Macedonia/Giannamore Award (designed to honor performances on the field and in the classroom): Gino Pierro, who played in the secondary, was a starting wide receiver and returned punts, and Alec Taylor, a stellar wide receiver and defensive back. Pierro carries a 4,35 grade-point average and Taylor boasts a GPA of 4.0

¯ Dan Keenan Leadership Award: Javon Davis. The senior quarterback finished the season with 1,998 passing yards and 26 touchdowns. He also ran for 383 yards and four scores.

¯ Calvin Jones Award (designed to honor outstanding linemen on both sides of the ball): Marlon Lawrence and Alijah Demitras. Lawrence was a standout on both sides of the ball for Big Red while Demitras played several positions along the offensive line. Both had outstanding senior seasons.

¯ Abe Bryan and Punque Cartledge Award: Jonathon Blackmon and Jamal Petteway. Blackmon started at fullback and outside linebacker. On the offensive side of the ball, he finished with 436 rushing yards and caught 19 passes for 356 yards. Petteway was a stalwart in the defensive backfield and also stepped in at tailback in the Clinton-Massie game when Jacob Bernard went down with an injury.

¯ Hustling 8 Award: DaJuan Jones, a standout at defensive back and wide receiver, and Reuben Saxon, who missed all of 2016 and the first five games of 2017 with an injury. Jones led the team in interceptions and caught 23 passes.

¯ Legends Award: Quentin Moore and Tyler Ely. Moore had a stellar season on the defensive line and earned first-team All-Ohio honors. He also set a school record for sacks. Ely was a three-year starter on the offensive line and produced another strong campaign in 2017.

¯ Senior MVP Award: Johnny Agresta and Jacob Bernard. In addition to having an outstanding season at linebacker, Agresta led the team in receiving with 44 catches for 560 yards and three scores. He made an outstanding one-handed catch in the state title game for a score. Bernard rushed for 1,724 yards on 276 carries and scored 24 times. He played in 13 games and had 95 yards before suffering a second quarter injury in the Clinton-Massie game.

¯ Special Teams Award: Pierro

Saccoccia, who now has a record of 371-68 in 34 seasons with Big Red, thanked the 20 senior members of the team for their contributions to the football program. The senior class was part of teams that went 41-3 during the past three seasons and reached three straight championship games.

“It was a great, great year and we had great senior leadership,” said Saccoccia. “Great leadership is the key to football.

“In high school, it senior leadership. In college and the pros, it’s veteran leadership. A team will only be as good as its seniors and our seniors did a great job for us.”

The Big Red grid boss also thanked members of his coaching staff for “all their hard work and commitment to our program.”

“Our coaches will never be outworked,” he said. “I can’t thank them enough for what they do for me.”

Saccoccia noted that veteran defensive coordinator Anthony Pierro is a nominee for defensive coach of the year. In the past 23 years with Pierro in charge of the defense, Big Red has posted a record of 252-52.

As the program was winding down, Saccoccia, who will have 16 lettermen returning in 2018, asked all sophomore and junior linemen to stand.

Once they did, he asked, “Can you guess why you are standing?”

When no answers were given, the coach smiled and said, “You’re expected to be in the weight room tomorrow after school. Come ready to go.”

Before presenting awards, Saccoccia took time to comment on the academic success of his team.

Big Red had 70 players in its varsity program this season, and 44 of them currently carry grade-point averages of 3.0 or better.