Big Red battled through a lot of adversity in 2021
STEUBENVILLE — Big Red’s football team dealt with plenty of adversity during the 2021 season but still managed to earn nine victories and reach the Ohio post-season for a 21st consecutive year.
The 9-3 campaign ended via a heart-breaking 49-42 loss to Kenston in the quarterfinals of the Division III, Region 9 playoffs.
Steubenville’s 34-20 Week 10 triumph over University School gave Reno Saccoccia his 400th coaching win. When Big Red took down Tallmadge in its playoff opener, Saccoccia tied Jim France, who coached at Akron Coventry and Akron Manchester, as the winningest coach in Ohio high school football history. It took France 49 seasons to reach 401. Saccoccia accomplished the feat in 39 campaigns.
“There are always positives,” Saccoccia said when looking back on the season. “But, just like wins and losses, you harbor the losses a lot longer than you harbor the wins — especially when you lose the way we lost.
“A coach’s job is to get the best out of his team and the individuals. As a coach, I don’t think I got the best out of this team. Therefore, we didn’t get the best out of the individuals. When it comes down to it, our kids played as physical and as fast as they could play. We allowed penalties to interfere with victories.”
In 12 games, Big Red drew 112 flags for 959 yards. Steubenville averaged 80 penalty yards per outing.
As the season unfolded, Saccoccia’s club also was hit with the injury bug. Numerous starters went down and some missed the bulk of the campaign.
“I feel horrible for the kids who got hurt and missed most of the season, especially Rodney James,” Saccoccia said. “I thought he could have had an outstanding senior year. It’s pretty devastating to get hurt as a senior but Rodney is a mentally tough kid and he will be very successful in life.
“We had other guys hurt but most of them will be back next year. I know they are chomping at the bit to get back to work and we will welcome them back with open arms. The guys who took over for our injured players did as well as they could do.”
In just three games, James carried the ball 58 times for 491 yards and scored eight touchdowns.
Offensively, Big Red finished with 3,104 (259 per game) rushing yards and 1,978 (165 an outing) through the air. Steubenville averaged 33 points per contest.
Two-way standout Spencer Ostovich finished as Big Red’s top rusher. The junior ran for 1,140 yards and found the end zone 15 times. Junior Gavin Bozica contributed 398 yards while sophomore Elijah Mullins, who got carries from both the fullback and tailback positions, added 384.
Sophomore Savier Faulks ran for 369 yards in seven games.
In his first year as Big Red’s quarterback, junior Phaeton Hill completed 120 of his 229 passing attempts for 1,979 yards and 17 touchdowns.
Hill’s yardage total is the seventh best in program history and his 120 completions are eighth best in that category. His 17 scoring tosses rank as 10th best.
Senior Inky Jones was Big Red’s top receiver with 29 grabs for 616 yards (he averaged 21.2 yards a catch) and eight scores. Sophomore Isaac Hill had 15 receptions, good for 317 yards and a pair of six-pointers. Hill averaged 21.1 yards a reception. He played in just five games due to an injury.
Junior Ty Pierce finished with nine catches. Hakim Edwards had eight while Ivan Buggs and Lee Anthony Sewell caught seven each. Edwards and Buggs are juniors while Sewell is a sophomore.
Defensively, the Big Red allowed 88 rushing yards per game, 160 passing and 20 points. The unit recovered 15 fumbles and intercepted 14 passes. Senior Niko Suriano had four picks and Edwards three.
Suriano also averaged 17 yards on his 16 kick returns.
“I met with our seniors and underclassmen after our last game,” Saccoccia said. “I told the seniors there were 29 of you in junior high and 23 as freshmen. Twelve of them stuck it out the whole way and they should be proud of that. They played together from Harding all the way.
“We appreciate the effort they gave our program and the effort was awesome. We also appreciate the leadership they provided. They are part of the tradition that never graduates.”
The 12 seniors are James, Suriano, Jones, Brandon Kinney, Kye Fleming, Peyton Tuttle, Jaylin Harris, Greg Mamula, Jaylin Gray, Blaze Wile, Chad Gardner and Chris Schiappa.