Big Red stops Benedictine to pass big test

STEUBENVILLE – A fumble, a sack and a couple of early scoring tosses helped Big Red earn a 28-17 victory over Cleveland Benedictine on Legends Night Friday at Harding Stadium.

The win moves Reno Saccoccia’s gridders to 2-0 on the young season and gives Big Red a 3-2 lead in its all-time series with Benedictine. The Bengals fell to 1-1.

“Our kids dug down deep and I’m so proud of them,” Saccoccia said. “Playing hard is a given in sports and I really don’t like to talk about playing hard. There’s a difference between playing hard and playing your guts out and that’s what we did tonight.

“We played a lot of kids and they are stepped up. That’s a good football team we went against.”

Big Red struck first after senior linebacker Robert Hayden recovered a Benedictine fumble on the first play of the game. Five snaps later on fourth and four, sophomore quarterback Dimitri Collaros rolled to his right, stopped and threw back to his left, finding a wide open Lucas Herrington for a touchdown. The scoring toss covered 11 yards. John Paul Duff added the extra point.

The score advanced to 14-0 midway through the opening stanza, Collaros finding senior Kai McClurg alone in the flat for a six-yard strike. Duff again split the uprights. Big Red started the drive on the Benedictine 43 (Hayden came through with a key sack of quarterback Brian Schoeffler on the previous Bengal possession) and needed just six snaps to find the end zone.

Key plays on the scoring march were a 12-yard burst by senior Garon Lytle and a Collaros pass to senior tight end Cameron King good for 16 stripes.

The Bengals of first year coach Joe Schaefer had excellent field position on its next possession thanks to a 38-yard return by speedy sophomore Justin Layne. Big Red was guilty of a facemask penalty (on the night, the hosts drew 10 flags for 99 yards). That gave the visitors a first down at the Red 34.

Big Red’s swarming defense rose to the occasion, however, and stopped the Bengals cold.

The third Big Red possession of the contest started on the 23 and resulted in another scoring march, this one covering 77 yards in 11 plays. Lytle motored through a huge hole for a 13-yard TD to cap the drive.

Sophomore quarterback Mandela Lawrence-Burke compiled 22 stripes on the ground and junior Donte Brown added 13. Duff put Saccoccia’s club up 21-0.

Benedictine followed that score with one of its own. Speedy sophomore Justin Layne took a direct snap in the wildcat formation and sprinted 46 yards to the house. Nick Judy nailed the conversion.

Big Red avoided disaster following the Bengal score, fumbling at its own 29 (Antonio Robinson recovering). The defense rose up again, Hayden and junior William Harvey stopped Jerome Baker, Benedictine’s talented junior tailback, for a loss on fourth and one.

Judy booted a 35-yard field goal to close the first half scoring. That score came after Saccoccia gambled on fourth and short at his own 36. Benedictine’s defense made the big stop this time

Big Red got a huge break on the kickoff following Judy’s three-pointer. The kick was fumbled and Benedictine appeared to recover. However, the officials ruled an inadvertent whistle sounded, forcing the Bengals to re-kick. This time, Big Red hung on.

The second half began with Big Red marching 65 yards in nine plays for its final score of the evening. Lawrence-Burke hit King on a play action pass for a 13-yard touchdown. King made an excellent stretch and catch on the Lawrence-Burke toss. Duff added his fourth extra point.

After recovering another Big Red fumble, Benedictine marched 27 yards for its final score. Baker plowed over from a yard out.

Big Red did mount two more scoring threats but one was stopped by a penalty and the other by the Benedictine defense.

“We had a mistake filled game with penalties and a couple of turnovers,” Saccoccia stated. “The worse play of the night was when I went for it on fourth and one. During the course of a game, I get so wrapped up in our offensive line and tailbacks. That was a bad call and it put the kids in a hole that we never got out of.

“Our defense came up big the whole night. To tell you the truth, during the first half, our special teams and offense played good and our defense was just outstanding.”

Heading into the contest, Saccoccia knew his Big Red would need to defend the entire field against the Bengals and their arsenal of offensive weapons. Mission accomplished.

For the night, Benedictine compiled 170 offensive yards (62 rushing and 108 passing) on 54 snaps. In their week one win, the Bengals reeled off 484 stripes. Baker, who ran for 182 in the victory, was held to minus 11 on 12 carries.

” I felt we were able to defend the entire field,” Saccoccia noted. “Our six interior guys stopped the run and our five other guys were able to stop the pass. Plus, we were able to get a decent pass rush.”

Sophomore Jeremy Blue recorded a sack for Big Red and Lawrence-Burke had an interception.

Offensively, Big red rolled to 353 yards (210 rushing and 143 passing) on 73 plays. Lytle finished with 80 stripes on 15 trips and Lawrence-Burke added 48. Donte Brown compiled 39 and Hayden 30.

“We played six backs in the first quarter and ran the first half with four tailbacks,” Saccoccia said. “I have confidence in them and tonight, they all pass blocked well. Our tailbacks did a good job for us.”

Collaros connected on 15 of 22 passing attempts (two of his incompletions came late in the first half on spikes to stop the clock) for 124 yards and two scores. Lawrence-Burke was three of five for 19 and a six-pointer.

“I liked our quarterback play,” Saccoccia admitted. “They are growing like everyone else. I liked how they stuck in there. Even when the rush was coming, they stayed in, took some shots and got right back up. They work together very well.”

Ten different Big Red receivers caught passes. Herrington led the receiving corps with five grabs while senior Bryan Pierro collected three.

“My plan has always been if you sacrifice your body for four days, then you are going to play on Fridays,” Saccoccia stated. “We have guys that are sacrificing their bodies and they are playing. There are some sophomores that are working hard but they have to wait their time.”

Big Red will remain at home for week three, entertaining Pinehurst Prep from St. Catharine’s, Ontario.