Big Red left no man behind against Morgantown

SNAPPING — Steubenville quarterback Clayton Criss takes the ball under center from Kaleb Brown against Morgantown on Friday. (Photo by Michael D. McElwain)

STEUBENVILLE — Steubenville’s football program generously lists Jaziah Blackwell as standing 5-foot-9 and weighing 180 pounds. The vital statistics obviously don’t mention anything about the size of the senior’s heart.

Just a few snaps removed from being helped off the field, the banged-up Blackwell, an undersized defensive end, returned to the Big Red huddle, recorded a huge tackle on fourth down and helped preserve a 21-17 victory over Morgantown on Friday inside Harding Stadium.

“Jaziah…Jaziah Blackwell,” Big Red head coach Reno Saccoccia said in an appreciative tone following the Legends Night win. “He showed his heart tonight.

“A lot of guys who played for us tonight played banged up. A lot more got banged up as the game went on. If you’re hurt, you are out. The guys who were banged up kept going and kept playing hard.”

The Mohigans launched their final drive at Big Red’s 47 with a little more than three minutes to play. They moved to the 24 and were facing a fourth-and-3. Quarterback Cameron Rice tried rolling to his right, but Blackwell fought off Morgantown’s blockers and recorded the victory-saving tackle behind the line of scrimmage. He got some help from defensive lineman Emmanuel Ware.

After the game, Blackwell needed assistance for the trip down the hill to the Big Red fieldhouse.

“When you are trying to bounce back, I think that kind of win does so much for your team morale,” Saccoccia said. “There were so many people who had a lot to do with this win tonight, and that makes it even better.

“It wasn’t just the guys who played. We have a group of guys who practice hard. This win was for everyone. Our scout team did a great job of showing what Morgantown does and what Morgantown does best. They stuck with their plan, and we stuck with our plan defensively. We still have to clean up the little things, every week it should get a little better and I think it will.”

Steubenville, which now has a 5-0 lead in its series with Morgantown, got on the board first, traveling 45 yards in eight plays after its defense forced a three-and-out. The touchdown came on a 16-yard scoring strike from Clayton Criss, making his first career start at quarterback, to Erik Lulla. The drive started after a nifty 22-yard punt return by Ethan Duggan. Ian Phillips’ conversion kick made it 7-0.

On its second possession, Morgantown moved from its own 23 to the Big Red 20, chewing up huge chunks of rushing yardage behind its massive offensive line. The threat ended, however, when Jorian Jones intercepted a Camercon Rice pass and returned it to the Mohigan 37.

The hosts were unable to capitalize on the turnover, and Matt Lacy’s squad quickly marched 69 yards to tie the score. Cameron Rice connected with Preston Fox for 21 yards, and hard-running Ty Konchesky capped the drive with a 17-yard burst up the middle. John McConnell’s kick made it 7-7.

Big Red took the lead back with 3:24 left in the half on a 36-yard sprint by junior tailback Tayveon Crawford. McDonnell then nailed a 41-yard field goal as time expired to make it 14-10.

Saccoccia’s club needed just three snaps in the third quarter to put points on the board. Criss found Ryan Rauch running down the sideline for a 74-yard score. Rauch, a senior wide receiver, appeared to catch the ball on his hip before sprinting untouched to the end zone.

The Mohigans drew close later in the period thanks to Kaden Rice’s 85-yard pick six. Big Red was threatening to score again when Kaden Rice stepped in front of a Criss pass.

“Credit Morgantown, its coaching staff and its players. They played a great game,” Saccoccia said. “Their safety made a great play on his interception.

“Now that it’s over, I’m glad the interception happened. It made us suck it up even more, and it made us appreciate hard work even more.”

Both teams are now 1-1 on the season. Big Red entertains Canada Football North St. Joe’s on Friday, while Morgantown travels to Fort Hill, Md.

“Our guys played hard,” Morgantown’s Matt Lacy said. “We made three mistakes, and they cost us three touchdowns. We have to learn from his and move forward.

“We had the ball with a chance to win and just didn’t make the play on fourth down. Steubenville brought the house. We just have to keep improving.”

Starting in place of the injured Randy Mitchell, Criss had quite a night for Big Red. He completed 10 of 16 passes for 168 yards and the two scores. Crawford paced Steubenville’s game, toting the pigskin 21 times for 98 yards. Caleb Mitchell added 54.

Konchesky finished with 81 yards on 14 carries.

Steubenville 21, Morgantown 17

Morgantown 0 10 7 0 — 17

Big Red 7 7 7 0 — 21

BIG RED: Lulla 16 pass from Criss (Phillips kick)

MORGANTOWN: Konchesky 17 run (McConnell kick)

BIG RED: Crawford 36 run (Phillips kick)

MORGANTOWN: McConnell 41 yard field goal

BIG RED: Rauch 74 pass from Criss (Phillips kick)

MORGANTOWN: K. Rice 85 yard interception return (McConnell kick)

RUSHING: Morgantown 33-138-1 (C. Rice 7-16; Konchesky 14-81-1; Whetsell 4-4; Davis 5-26; Milne 1-1; Fox 2-10); Big Red 43-146-1 (Criss 4-(-4); Crawford 21-981; Mitchell 15-54; Tuttle 1-4; Kausky 1-5; Blackwell 1-(-1)).

PASSING: Morgantown 3-12-60-0-1 (all by C. Rice); Big Red 10-16-168-2-1 (all by Criss)

RECEIVING: Morgantown 3-12-6 (all by Fox); Big Red 10-168-2 (Duggan 3-33; Lulla 1-16-1; Rauch 2-88-1; Mitchell 2-4; Kausky 1-9; Tuttle 1-13).

FIRST DOWNS: Morgantown 10; Big Red 14.

PENALTIES-YARDS: Morgantown 3-25; Big Red 7-49.

PUNTS: Morgantown 5-45; Big Red 4-30.

FUMBLES-LOST: Morgantown 1-0; Big Red 1-0.