No. 1 Big Red needs everyone ready for unbeaten Boardman

BIG CHALLENGE — The Steubenville football team runs on the field before its matchup with St. Joseph on Friday. (Photo by Michael D. McElwain)

STEUBENVILLE — A couple of state-ranked unbeatens are set to collide in a Week 4 showdown on Reno Field at Harding Stadium.

Big Red, ranked first in the initial Ohio AP Division IV poll, will welcome Boardman, the No. 7 team in the Division II standings, for the annual Legends Night game. Friday’s kick is scheduled for 7 p.m.

The schools have met 14 times in the past and the series, thanks to Steubenville’s 28-0 victory in 2016, is tied at seven wins each.

“Boardman is a head-knocker for us every year, and I’m sure this game will be the same thing,” Big Red coach Reno Saccoccia said. “We are even with them in the series as far as wins go. We’ve had tough times with Boardman, even against their worst teams.

“Playing against Boardman is always a great test for us. Our players know they will have to be mentally prepared and execute come Friday night. Those are two of the things we are focusing on this week.”

Steubenville has collected victories over Upper St. Clair, Morgantown and Football North St. Joe’s, while the Spartans, who compete in the Gold Tier of the All American Conference, have defeated Youngstown East (41-7), Warren Howland (35-17) and Massillon Jackson (39-36).

In the Jackson game, Boardman took a 19-0 first half lead, eventually lost it in the fourth quarter, regained it, watched it slip away again and finally emerged victorious down the stretch.

Quarterback Mike O’Horo (6-1, 200 pounds) ran for three scores in the Jackson game, including an 8-yarder in the first half. In the win over Howland, the junior completed 18-of-27 passing attempts for 222 yards and three touchdowns. He also added six on the ground. He threw to seven different receivers during the contest.

As a sophomore, O’Horo has 915 yards through the air. Saccoccia knows the dual-threat signal caller will present a major challenge for his defense.

“From watching film of their first three games, you can tell he (O’Horo) did what was necessary,” Saccoccia said. “He made the right reads on the run-pass option. He makes good, quick decisions and throws the football well. Plus, his offensive line does a solid job of protecting him.”

Boardman’s offensive line includes the likes of Nikitas Missos (6-0, 240), Bob Toth (6-0, 250), Dave Merdich (6-2, 250), Tino Arcuri (6-2, 240) and Justin Cina (5-11, 250).

Senior Domonhic Jennings (5-11, 202) and junior Joe Ieraci (5-8, 168) lead Boardman’s stable of running backs. Jennings had 126 rushing yards in the victory over Howland.

O’Horo’s favorite targets are Jajuan Forte (6-1, 170), Keyshawn Colmon (6-0, 165), Connor Miller (5-11, 165) and Nate Cuttica (5-11, 179).

Defense has been a hallmark for coach Joe Ignazio since taking over the Boardman program. Last season, the Spartans allowed 20.6 points per game. The front line is led by Evan Walton and Arcuri, while Ieraci and Kareen Hamdam are strong at linebacker.

“Boardman is a well-coached football team,” Saccoccia said. “They have a bunch of steady players, and the defense plays very, very good football. Overall, the team is very fundamentally sound. This team is much improved over last year.”

In opening the season with three victories for the 16th consecutive year, Big Red has averaged 36 points per outing and allowing nine. The Steubenville offense is averaging 432 yards per game (276 on the ground and 156 via the air).

Caleb Mitchell paces Big Red’s stable of running backs with 178 yards. Jonathon Blackmon is next with 126, followed by Jamal Petteway with 110 and Tayveon Crawford with 95. Jacob Bernard, who led Big Red in rushing a season ago, made his first appearance of the season against Canada North, running for 61 yards on nine trips. Bernard appears to be fully recovered from a knee injury suffered in the Division IV semifinal game against Perry.

Quarterback Javon Davis has thrown for 456 yards. He’s completed 63 percent of his passes and has six scoring tosses. Davis had two touchdown completions in a quarter and a half of work against Canada North.

Gino Pierro has eight catches for Big Red, three resulting in scores. Johnny Agresta has six grabs and Dujuan Jones five. Jones is averaging 24 yards per reception.

In three games, the Big Red defense has surrendered a total of 418 yards. The opposition has averaged just 37 yards rushing.

Following last week’s rout of Canada North, Saccoccia stated, “every game serves a purpose, and that game served a purpose for us.” This week, however, things are a little different.

“Everyone played in last week’s game, and I think it was a good game for us,” he said. “This week is a different story. Everyone has to bring their A game and maybe a little more. Boardman is a very good football team, and we need to be ready.”