All Big Red needed was one half to defeat Pittsburgh USO

Steubenville’s, from left, Erik Lulla, Tayveon Montgomery and Dylan Cunningham attempt to recover a fumble by Pittsburgh USO’s Cameron Brown on Friday. (Photo by Joe Catullo)

STEUBENVILLE — Big Red won on the scoreboard, 35-8, over Pittsburgh USO Friday night, but it was Mother Nature that ultimately won out as the two teams never took the field for the second half because of heavy rain and lightning at Harding Stadium.

Big Red, which scored at will on five of its six first-half possessions, piled up 256 yards on the ground and 26 more through the air, winning for the fourth time in five outings.

“We were able to move the ball, but we really didn’t get to do some of the things we wanted to do,” veteran Big Red coach Reno Saccoccia said. “The weather kept us from doing some things, but we showed improvement again, which is something we always want to keep doing.”

Big Red got the opening kickoff and marched 61 yards on the ground, with junior Taveon Crawford crashing into the end zone over right tackle from the 5. Crawford and Caleb Mitchell alternated runs, with Crawford gaining 18 yards and Mitchell running for 40. David Tuttle added four. The 61-yard drive consumed 10 plays and exactly three minutes off the clock. Ian Phillips kicked the extra point for the 7-0 lead.

The Big Red defense put a quick halt to any Wildcat plans to run the football, stopping USO for minus 6 yards on three carries and forcing a put. Junior Messiah Wilkerson’s punt was returned from the Big Red 48 to the USO 27 by Ethan Duggan, and Big Red was back driving again.

This time, it took only three plays, with Mitchell going left and darting through an opening in the Wildcat defense. Phillips made it 14-0.

A three-and-out by the Big Red defense forced another Wilkerson punt.

“Our defensive line is another area in which we keep improving. They did a great job tonight,” Saccoccia said.

Big Red started this drive with two quick passes. Senior Clayton Criss hit sophomore Isaiah McCartney for 14, and then found Ryan Rauch open for 17 to the Wildcat 17-yard line from where Crawford blasted over left tackle, cut to the outside and raced to the end zone. With the Phillips kick, Big Red took a commanding 21-0 advantage.

USO’s lone score was a 78-yard pass from Wilkerson to a streaking Tavon Mathis. The play started at the Wildcat 22, and Mathis caught the ball at the Big Red 45 in full stride, out-running the Big Red secondary. Wilkerson tossed the two-point conversion to Marcus Johnson, cutting the Big Red lead to 21-8.

“Our backs were running hard tonight,” Saccoccia said. “They are beginning to understand that they have to finish on their runs, and that’s another area that we keep working on and improving. All these kids are working hard every day in practice to get better, and the improvement is showing.”

Mitchell scored from 10 yards out on a draw play over right guard to open the second quarter. Later, Big Red drove 99 yards in a lengthy 18-play drive that consumed 8:50, with Jaziah Blackwell thundering into the end zone on a 10-yard run. Phillips tacked on the extra point kicks after both scores.

Big Red (4-1) hosts Dover next Friday.

Big Red 35, USO 8

USO 8 0 x x — 8

Big Red 21 14 x x — 35

S: Crawford 5 run (Phillips kick)

S: Mitchell 5 run (Phillips kick)

S: Crawford 17 run (Phillips kick)

U: Mathis 78 pass from Wilkerson (2-point good)

S: Mitchell 10 run (Phillips kick)

S: Blackwell 10 run (Phillips kick)

RUSHING: USO 5-7 (Macklin 1-14, Wilkerson 2-(-7)); Big Red 38-256-5 (Mitchell 14-119-2, Crawford 13-94-2, Tuttle 2-10, Wickham 2-7, Blackwell 4-17-1, Criss 1-(-10).

PASSING: USO 3-10-123-1 (all by Wilkerson); Big Red 2-6-26 (all by Criss).

RECEIVING: USO (Mathis 2-78-1, Brown 1-0, Snowden 1-45); Big Red (McCartney 1-14, Rauch 1-12).

FIRST DOWNS: USO 2, Big Red 16.

FUMBLES-LOST: USO 2-1, Big Red 1-0.

PENALTIES: USO 1-5, Big Red 2-20.

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