Big Red outlasts neighbor Brooke

WELLSBURG – Sean Blumette was spot on when he said Big Red “is going to attack you” when its back is against the wall. That’s not the kind of team that is “going to sit back and take it.”

Stung by an early Brooke score, Reno Saccoccia’s club reeled off 29 unanswered points to earn a 32-15 victory before a large crowd at Memorial Stadium Friday.

The victory moves Big Red to 4-0 on the season and gives it an 8-0 lead in the Battle of the Bridge series. Blumette and his Bruins fall to 1-3, all the losses coming to state-ranked teams.

“We respect Brooke and its program,” Saccoccia stated. “We respect everything about the Brooke Bruins. We told our kids we wanted to play with passion tonight and earn their respect, the same respect we give them. We responded well after their early score.”

Brooke grabbed the early lead when junior quarterback Aaron Walker totally fooled the aggressive Big Red defense. On second and five at the Bruin 15, he faked a handoff to his running back (Justin Loughrie), moved to his left, turned up the field and raced 85 yards for a first quarter touchdown. Loughrie added the extra point.

“We knew we could make some stuff happen and we had a good play,” Blumette said of the touchdown call. “Aaron made a great fake; everyone thought Justin had the ball. I actually thought he (Loughrie) got stuffed. The next thing I knew, Aaron is 40 yards down the field.

“That score showed the big play capabilities our backs have.”

The touchdown came after the Brooke defense stuffed Big Red on its first offensive series. Nigel Bowland threw quarterback Dimitri Collaros for an eight yard loss. Two plays later, Steubenville was forced to punt.

Blumette’s club started its next possession on the Big Red 32 following a short punt. Nick Ossman gained six and Loughrie added a stripe on second down. William Harvey and Robert Hayden then combined to throw Ossman for a five-yard loss on the third snap. Brooke went for it on fourth down but Walker’s pass fell incomplete.

Big Red then proceeded to march 70 yards for the go-ahead score. Donte Brown accounted for 42 of the total and scored on a six-yard plunge. Brown also crossed the goal for the two-point conversion.

The next Steubenville touchdown came following another solid defensive stance and a big play by the special teams. Arin Goldsmith dropped Loughrie for a three-yard loss on first and five. Two plays later, Brooke had to punt. The snap was bad and Big Red broke through to block Heath Hildreth’s boot. Big Red was in business from the Bruin 12.

Quarterback Mandela Lawrence-Burke found sophomore fullback Devin Ferguson alone in the flats off play action and Ferguson cruised to the house. Tevon Gary’s kick made it 15-7.

When asked about the huge momentum shift, Blumette said it was a combination of Big Red making adjustments and his team not making plays.

“We had Big Red’s back against the walls,” he noted. “They’re going to attack you when that happens. They’re not going to sit back and take it.”

Both defenses continued to deliver big plays for the remainder of the half. Kai McClurg got plenty of help from his friends to sack Walker for a nine-yard loss on third and long. Big Red was stopped by the Bruin D on a fourth and short. McClurg recorded another tackle for a loss on Brooke’s next drive, getting to Walker once again.

The half ended when Brooke’s Casey Munger sacked Collaros, forcing a fumble. Thomas Cole recovered for the Bruins.

Big Red started the second half by marching 65 yards in six plays (overcoming two holding penalties). The key play was a 34 yard Lawrence-Burke to Bryan Pierro pass completion. Hayden ran in from 33 yards out on one of Big Red’s patented stretch plays. Gary added the point from conversion.

Saccoccia’s squad struck quickly following Hayden’s run. The defense forced a Bruin punt from the Brooke 45. The snap was bad again, and Hildreth was forced to fall on the pigskin, giving Big Red a first down at the 30.

Donte Brown gained 16 on a third and 10 then Johnnie Blue sprinted in from 14 stripes away. John Paul Duff kicked the point this time and it was 29-7 Big Red.

“Unfortunately for the first time in two years, we had two bad special teams plays,” Blumette noted. “That cost us two touchdowns. I’ve never experienced that in my time here. We’ll work on that next week and fix it. You take those two scores off the board and who knows.”

Brooke put together an impressive drive on its next touch, moving from its own 18 to the Big Red three. Walker threw for 76 stripes on the march. He hit Alexander Tate for 26 yards and a first down at the Red 9. A Walker pass fell incomplete then Bowland was hit behind the line by Ferguson. Walker and Tate hooked up for eight. On fourth and three, Ossman was nailed by the interior of the Big Red defense and fumbled the ball, the Red recovering at the one.

Brooke earned a safety two snaps later when Todd Clark dropped Hayden in the end zone.

On its ensuing possession, the Bruins pulled a little razzle dazzle. Walker tossed the ball to Hildreth, who then found a wide open Tate for an apparent 53-yard score. Unfortunately, Brooke was hit with a double forward pass penalty, nullifying the touchdown.

“He (Hildreth) was clearly two yards behind Aaron,” a disappointed Blumette said after watching the play on film. “It was the wrong call and a difference maker in the game. We could have been within 12 points with 10 minutes left. It’s a shame the game has to come down to a bad call.”

Instead of pulling closer, Brooke turned the ball over on downs. Big Red then marched downfield behind the running of Lytle and Johnnie Blue. The drive led to Steubenville’s final score of the game, a 23-yard Duff field goal.

Ossman sprinted in from 14 yards out to cap Brooke’s last march of the evening.

“Brooke didn’t lay down and die,” Saccoccia stated. “They have good players and a good coaching staff. You’re not going to shut a team like that out. I wish we would have played better at times on both offense and defense. And, I wish I would have coached better at times. I have to improve as much as they players do.”

As Blumette noted, Brooke “battled.”

“The effort was awesome,” he noted. “We really challenged the kids after the University game to go out and play like they have in the first half for an entire game. We came out tonight and kept battling in the third quarter.”

Big Red compiled 353 yards of offense (268 rushing and 85 passing). Saccoccia’s tailback by committee finished with 251 stripes. Hayden paced the way with 73 while Donte Brown added 58. Pierro grabbed three passes for 76 stripes.

“Our running backs did a nice job,” Saccoccia said. “They’re going to be fine.”

Brooke had 122 yards rushing on 37 trips. Walker had 85 of the total on his touchdown jaunt. He completed 10 of 17 passes for 113. Tate caught four for 62.

“I’m proud of our kids,” Blumette said. “Give credit to coach Saccoccia and Big Red. They have a heck of a program and they will be a team to reckon with. They are young, have athletic ability and dangerous speed. Steubenville kids are hard nose, tough kids. They hit you on defense and run hard on offense. They have the skilled players to make things work.”

Big Red will entertain Massillon in Week 5 while Brooke will travel to Wheeling Park for yet another match with a state-ranked squad.

“I want to thank our people that came over here tonight,” Saccoccia added. “We really appreciate the support they have been giving us.”