Big Red, Madonna ready for semifinals

Steubenville Big Red’s improbable run through the Division IV playoffs continues on Black Friday with a date against a familiar foe inside Canton’s Fawcett Stadium.

Big Red, champions of Region 13, and Youngstown Cardinal Mooney, the Region 11 winners, will match 9-4 records in the state semifinals. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. Kenton, 13-0, and Clarksville Clinton-Massie, 12-1, will collide in the other Division IV semifinal. That game is scheduled for Dayton’s Welcome Stadium.

Friday’s meeting will be the eighth between the schools, the Cardinals holding a commanding 6-1 series lead. The last matchup came on 11/11/11 in the regional semifinals. Mooney kicked a field goal with five seconds left to earn a 24-22 victory. The drive leading to the three-pointer was aided by two controversial penalties against Big Red.

Meanwhile, Madonna and Williamstown will lock horns in the West Virginia Class A semifinals Friday at Jimmy Carey Stadium. That game also will begin at 7:30 p.m.

The top-ranked Blue Dons stand at 12-0 while the Yellow Jackets will bring a 10-2 mark to Weirton. The Madonna-Williamstown winner will play the survivor of the Magnolia at Greenbrier West contest in the state title game on Dec. 7. Magnolia’s semifinal contest is set for a 1:30 p.m. Saturday start.

Williamstown earned a 38-31 victory over Madonna in the 2011 playoffs and beat the Blue Dons in the 2008 state title game 23-7.

Mooney and Big Red are both in the playoffs for the 26th time. The Cardinals have 59 post-season victories and eight state titles. Big Red now has 50 wins to go along with its three Ohio championships. Mooney is in the semifinals for the 17th time while Big Red will be making its 14th appearance.

Reno Saccoccia’s program made its last semifinal appearance in 2008, beating New Lexington 30-6. Big Red eliminated Mooney in the regional semifinals that season.

In winning its regional title, Big Red topped No. 1 seed Newark Licking Valley 21-14, fourth-seeded Maysville 22-20 and Indian Valley, the second seed, 17-14. The Red came from behind in all three of its victories.

Big Red and Delphos St. John’s are the only eight seeds to have reached the state semifinals. St. John’s competes in Division VII.

Mooney was the three seed in Region 11. The Cardinals opened the playoffs with a 45-20 win over Cleveland John Hay before smashing Struthers 42-14 in the semifinals. Mooney earned its title by overcoming an early 14-0 deficit to clip Cleveland Benedictine 28-21.

Trailing 14-10 with 3:06 remaining in the third quarter against Indian Valley, Big Red went on a seven-play, 78-yard drive, culminating with a seven-yard Johnnie Blue touchdown run. John Paul Duff, who earlier kicked a 33-yard field goal, put home the extra point to finish the scoring. Blue had runs of 24, 12 and six yards on the drive as well.

Blue finished the night with 178 yards on 21 carries. Mandela Lawrence-Burke added 49 rushing stripes (he scored on a five yard burst) and 52 passing.

“I know there’s a guy named Lazarus, but I think we beat him,” Saccoccia said of his team’s unlikely voyage to becoming regional champs. “After week nine, they were throwing on the last shovel and I think it broke. I think the only reason we’re still around is the shovel broke.”

Big Red stood at 5-4 after Week 9.

Madonna is looking to capture its third state title. The Blue Dons have reached the West Virginia playoffs seven straight years and 13 times overall. Madonna has finished second three times.

Doug Taylor’s crew compiled 531 rushing yards in whipping Wahama 77-50 in near white-out conditions Saturday at Jimmy Carey Stadium.

Wahama, the eight seed, earned a 43-42 overtime victory over the Blue Dons in the 2012 title game.

Still, thoughts of last season’s 43-42 loss to the White Falcons in the state title game lingered around the Madonna locker room.

“We talked in our pregame and all week,” said Taylor. “It’s not about revenge, it’s about redemption. We thought we let something get away from us that we should have had. We felt that we definitely had to make a statement and that we were going to get that back.

“Sometimes you don’t get an opportunity to play a team like that a second time around.”

Ross Comis ran the football 26 times against the White Falcons, gaining 267 yards and scoring six touchdowns. He passed for 48 and another score. Eliott Nero had 20 touches, good for 185 and four six-pointers.

Comis has accounted for 3,099 stripes between rushing and passing through 12 games. He has 1,655 rushing while Nero boasts 1,627.

Quarterback Jake Tracewell and running back David Hastings combined to rush for 316 yards and five touchdowns as Williamstown eliminated Bishop Donahue 54-12. The Yellow Jackets entered the Class A tournament as the fourth seed.

Williamstown’s losses came to St. Mary’s (32-13) and Ritchie County (38-31).

“We’re just going to keep rolling,” Comis said following the Wahama contest. “We need one more win to get to the island and win it this time.”

Taylor had a special project for the 15 Madonna seniors on Friday night.

“He had us write down our thoughts on this game,” said senior Gabe Hypes, who recovered a fumble and two squib kicks. “We all wrote down about 10 things of what it meant to us. We brought in our state runner-up plaque from last year. It was always what we were thinking about and now we just have to keep rolling on.”

Lots of offense:

Mooney has two key rushing threats in Mark Handel and C.J. Amill. Both have rushed for more than 1,000 yards. In the win over Benedictine, Handel gained 140 and scored on a 71-yard sprint. Amill added 111 and crossed the goal via a 52-stripe jaunt.

Quarterback Jon Saadey had thrown for more than 1,000 yards (he had 104 against the Bengals).

The Cardinal losses came to Imhotep Charter out of Philadelphia (currently 10-1), Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary (13-0 and still alive in the Division III playoffs), Lakewood St. Edward (11-1 and a Division I semifinalist) and Austintown Fitch (which finished 12-1).

After missing the playoffs a season ago, Mooney will make its sixth semifinal appearance under coach P.J. Flecko.

“It’s always special,” Flecko said after the win over Benedictine. “It’s great for our team to experience it, but by the same token, when you get into the playoffs, the goal is to win the whole thing. That’s still the goal.

“We’re excited about this but there’s still a couple of steps left in this tournament and we hope we can get there.”

Still thinking:

For the first time in the 42 years of the OHSAA football playoffs, the time slots for the state championship games will not be announced until after the state semifinals. This is due to the expansion to seven divisions and one state championship being played on Dec. 5, a Thursday.

Of the divisions that play on Friday nights during the playoffs (II, III, IV and VI), one will be selected to play its state championship at 7 p.m. on Dec. 5 in Massillon’s Paul Brown Tiger Stadium.

The schedule for Dec. 6 calls for games to be played at 11 a.m. in Canton, 3 p.m. in Massillon and 7 p.m. in Canton. The Dec. 7 slate has an 11 a.m. game in Massillon, a 3 p.m. contest in Canton and a 7 p.m. battle in Massillon.

The Big Red D:

Indian Valley was averaging 395 yards (326 on the ground) per game heading into the Region 13 championship contest. Big Red’s defense held the Braves to just 175 yards (117 rushing).

“I don’t know anything about stats,” Saccoccia said. “All I know is the first half, we didn’t tackle well. The second half we shut them out.”

The Braves scored all their points in the second quarter. Indian Valley had the pigskin for 13:23 of the first half but just 10:09 in the second.

Indian Valley’s Jake Davis, the Eastern District offensive player of the year, was held to just 48 rushing yards.

The second half shutout was Big Red’s second in three playoff wins. The Red also blanked Licking Valley during the final 24 minutes. Maysville did manage a second half score in the regional semifinals,

Games to shift:

The current four-year contract for the OHSAA state championship games (2012-2015) includes two years at Ohio Stadium in Columbus (2014 and 2015).

Stark County, which has hosted the finals every year since 1990, landed the first two years.

When the championship games shift to Ohio Stadium, they will be spread over three days. The most recent bid by Columbus was the first that included all the games being played in Ohio Stadium.

There is currently no contract in place for the football finals after 2015.

Big Red captured its first playoff championship (1984) on the turf of Ohio Stadium.

Not a kicking guy:

Saccoccia admitted he’s “just not a kicking guy I guess” following Big Red’s win over Indian Valley.

Duff’s second quarter field goal gave the Red a 10-7 lead. Indian Valley led 14-10 at the half.

“I should be hung by the highest tree for not using him more,” Saccoccia stated. “He’s a clutch player.”

Good on fourth:

Big Red struggled on third down conversions in the win over Indian Valley. The Red converted just two of 10 tries.

Fourth down, however, was a different story. Saccoccia went for it four times on fourth down in the 17-14 win and his team converted three of the tries.

Five are left:

Five of the six state champions from 2012 have reached the Ohio semifinals. Only Toledo Central Catholic (won Division II last year and was Division III this year) has been bounced from the playoffs.

Last year’s other state champions included Cincinnati Archbishop Moeller in Division I, Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary in D III, Clinton-Massie in Division IV, Coldwater in Division V and Maria Stein Marion Local in Division VI, now a Division VII school.

3rd against OVAC:

Williamstown’s tussle with Madonna will mark the third straight against OVAC squads for the Yellow Jackets.

In Week 1 of the West Virginia playoffs, Williamstown clipped Wheeling Central 27-25. On Saturday, the Jackets took care of Bishop Donahue.

Speaking of the OVAC, Glouster Trimble defeated three conference schools in capturing the Division VII, Region 25 crown. The Tomcats eliminated Beallsville, Catholic Central and Shadyside.

Meanwhile, four OVAC schools remain in the playoffs – Big Red on the Ohio side along with Madonna, Magnolia and Wheeling Park.