Big Red rolls on

DOVER – Only three plays and seven yards separated the Indian Valley and Steubenville offenses in the first half of Friday’s Division IV Region 13 championship.

The similarities went beyond the stat sheet, too. Both teams were aggressive on fourth down tries and fairly successful.

“Both defenses were playing pretty solid in the first half,” said Indian Valley coach Matt Lancaster. “We felt like we could go for it, as I’m sure the same is for Steubenville, and that we could rely on our defense.”

A pass interference call aided the Braves’ first drive as they were facing a fourth down with four yards to go. Five plays later, Jake Davis scored on a 1-yard drive to answer Big Red’s 15-play, 67-yard drive on its first possession.

Steubenville was successful on a fourth and four play on the 50-yard line of that drive after Mandela Lawrence-Burke ran for a seven yard gain.

“They moved the ball extremely well on that drive and we knew from the start we had to match them,” Lancaster said.

On Indian Valley’s next possession, facing a fourth and eight on the Steubenville 32, Brady Byers hit Logan Ryan for a 31-yard passing play that took Indian Valley to the 1-yard line. It would score on the next play, another pound by the 5-foot-9, 210-pound Davis.

Big Red’s next fourth down decision came after a seven play drive was stalled when Lawrence-Burke was sacked for an eight yard loss which took it out of Braves’ territory. A 22-yard pass from Lawrence-Burke to Lucas Herrington didn’t make it to the chains, setting up another successful fourth down. This time, though, the points came from kicker John Paul Duff who drilled a 33-yard field goal.

Steubenville gambled twice on fourth down on its first possession of the second half.

It was fourth and four on the Indian Valley 38 with just under seven minutes in the third quarter when Lawrence-Burke, who finished with 50 rushing yards on 16 attempts, found a hole for a five yard gain. Later, Big Red was faced with a fourth and eight on the 32 when Lawrence-Burke’s pass to Niko Petrides fell just short, giving possession back to the Braves.

But the Big Red defense held strong and forced a punt after just four plays.

“We didn’t tackle really well in the first half,” said Steubenville coach Reno Saccoccia. “In the second half, we did.”

Davis was stopped for a three yard loss after Johnnie Blue’s seven yard touchdown run late in the third quarter.

On the same drive, Oko Anyabwile sacked Byers for an 11-yard loss, which forced an Indian Valley punt.

“In our type of offense, negative plays really puts us in a hole,” Lancaster said. “Their linebackers were fast and their speed gave us a little trouble. We knew that coming in. We’d be in some trouble when their linebackers started stepping up.

“They took advantage of that and got the job done.”

The Braves punted just once in the first half, a 49-yard boot by Byers, which pinned Big Red on its own 2-yard line in the final minute of the second quarter. But in the second half, they punted on the first three of its four possessions.

That fourth possession came down to a critical fourth down play, as well. Byers threw an incomplete pass, ran for four yards and tosses a screen pass to Ryan for a two yard loss.

It came to fourth and eight on the Steubenville 36-yard line. The clock ticked under the 1:00 minute mark and Byers dropped back looking to pass. Instead of finding an open receiver, he came face-to-face with Blue and the green turf of Crater Stadium. Blue recorded the sack and forced a fumble.

Blue also led a fourth down charge on the earlier fourth quarter with a three yard run on a fourth down and one play from the Big Red 37. The sophomore running back had 172 yards on 20 carries, with a long of 50.

“I just felt that the kids did a great job,” Saccoccia said. “We shut them out.”

It’s a positive trend for Steubenville, which has only allowed six points in the second half of its three playoff games. Big Red shutout Licking Valley in the second half in Round 1 and just surrendered a one yard running touchdown to Maysville in Round 2.

“We knew what they had done,” Lancaster said. “We’ve been a strong second half team, too. We just didn’t get it done in the second half. They did some things to cause some negative plays for us. Credit to them. They’re well-coached and a very good football. We’ll hold our heads high.”

Big Red turns its attention to a state semifinal match with Youngstown Cardinal Mooney, which beat Cleveland Benedictine 28-21 in Solon.

Strong fourth down plays again may just lead Steubenville to its fourth state championship.

Big Red rolls on

NEWARK – Reno Saccoccia issued this challenge to his team at halftime Friday – fight for 24 minutes.

The eighth-seeded Big Red responded and left Randy Baughman Stadium with a 21-14 Division IV, Region 13 quarterfinal victory over top-seeded Licking Valley.

Friday’s victory, Big Red’s 48th all-time in the Ohio playoffs, sends Steubenville into next week’s semifinals opposite Maysville.

Licking Valley held a 14-7 halftime lead after Big Red was victimized by a chain-gang error on a critical fourth down and a whole bunch of penalties.

Big Red opened the third quarter by making a statement, going 85 yards (11 plays) for a touchdown. Johnnie Blue did the honors from four yards out. On the extra point try, Licking Valley was called for a substitution infraction and the Red went for two. The Panther defense stiffened, however, and stopped Robert Hayden short.

Saccoccia’s club took the lead for good with 1:03 left in the third, officially traveling 71 yards (the drive actually covered 88 due to a holding penalty). Mandela Lawrence-Burke went in from the 1 after making a nifty fake to Hayden and getting the corner on the Panther defense. Blue ran in for the two making it 21-14 Big Red.

“It was a great victory,” Saccoccia said. “I think I put a little too much pressure on everyone and it hurt us all the way around. The defense played solid all night and the offense had two tremendous drives to keep us enthused. That first drive of the second half really put us back in the game.”

Steubenville appeared to be on its way to a third second-half touchdown, taking over at its own 11 early in the fourth quarter and marching to the Panther 18. A fumble, however, stalled the march. The drive was extended thanks to a fantastic play by Lawrence-Burke and Bryan Pierro.

On fourth-and-one at its own 35, Big Red lined up to punt but the snap from center to Lawrence-Burke was bad. The sophomore quarterback picked up the pigskin, scrambled to his right and tossed the ball to Pierro. The senior wide receiver made a leaping catch at the Panther 40.

Licking Valley’s ensuing drive stalled thanks to an outstanding defensive play by Big Red’s Lucas Herrington on a third down pass. Big Red, however, still was unable to put the game away, fumbling again on its next touch, the Panthers recovering at the Steubenville 47.

This time, the hosts mounted a serious threat, moving to Big Red’s 13. On first down, Hunter Hartshorn rumbled to the 5. The Panthers, however, drew a personal foul flag, nullifying the gain and placing the ball at the 19. On the next play, Lawrence-Burke intercepted a Grant Garber pass, returning it from the 5 to the 30.

Big Red’s offense went three-and-out, setting up another opportunity for the region’s top-seed. Saccoccia’s defense stiffened again and stopped Hartshorn on fourth-and-one to preserve the victory. William Harvey made first contact for Big Red on the play.

“The defense was outstanding all night,” Saccoccia said. “We had 15 kids play on defense tonight and they all played great. Overall, we had 28 kids play tonight and they played tough with a passion, especially when it was called for – like on fourth-and-one at the end.”

When asked about the difference between the first half and the second, Saccoccia responded by saying “I don’t know honestly.”

“I told them at halftime we played the worst half of football we had played all year and we lost four games,” Saccoccia noted. “We were only down 14-7 and I told them you have to fight for 24 minutes if you guys want to go on.”

Licking Valley scored first, going 33 yards in five plays following a partially blocked punt. The touchdown came on an 11-yard Garber to Tyler Griffith pass. The conversion kick failed.

Big Red took the lead early in the second quarter thanks an 18-yard gallop up the gut by Hayden. John Paul Duff split the uprights for the extra point. The two-play, 45-yard march came following Lawrence-Burke’s first interception. On the snap before the score, Lawrence-Burke hit Lucas Herrington for 27 stripes.

The Panthers struck again at the 4:41 mark of the second quarter, traveling 36 yards in four plays. Griffith gave Licking Valley great field possession thanks to a 34 stripe punt return. Garber’s toss to Damon Hupp made it 14-7.

Big Red threatened before the half, marching from its own 26 to the Panther 24. On fourth and six, Lawrence-Burke hit Hayden in the flat. The senior was hemmed in, cut back to the middle of the field and was tackled at the 18, apparently gaining enough for a first down. When the officials brought the chains out to measure, however, Big Red actually was nearly a full yard short.

Word from the field indicated the officials realized the home team’s chain gang made a mistake but awarded the ball to Licking Valley anyway. Reno Saccoccia argued the call and was awarded with a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty.

In the first half, Big Red ran 34 plays to 26 for Licking Valley. The visitors had 185 yards and the hosts 88. Big Red, however, drew six penalties for 84 yards (one 15-yarder actually led to 19 in penalty stripes) while the Panthers were not penalized until the 1:35 mark of the second quarter.

Big Red, now 7-4, finished the night with 409 yards of offense (287 rushing) and compiled 21 first downs. The Red was hit with 13 flags for 161 yards. Licking Valley managed just 137 yards of offense.

Blue went for 96 yards to pace the winners. Hayden added 92 and Lawrence-Burke 84. The sophomore passed for 122 with Herrington grabbing five for 68.

“We have to protect the ball,” Saccoccia said about his offense. “We didn’t do that tonight and that’s the only bad thing we did. We’ll have our center back next week and will be able to punt from a regular formation.”