Big Red, Dover prep for sequel
STEUBENVILLE — Focus and execution are the key words this week for Big Red’s football team as it prepares to host Dover Friday in the second round of the Division III, Region 9 playoffs.
Big Red, the region’s seventh seed, advanced with a 43-6 victory over Youngstown East. Meanwhile, the 10th-seeded Tornadoes rode a record-tying performance by backup quarterback T.C. Molk (he threw seven touchdown passes) to a 63-21 beat down of Tallmadge. The winner moves on to the quarterfinals and will face either second-seeded Streetsboro or No. 15 Niles McKinley. Friday’s kick is set for 7 p.m. on Reno Field inside Harding Stadium.
The two teams squared off in Week 2, with Steubenville earning a 28-7 triumph. That game was tied at 7-7 through three quarters before Big Red put 21 unanswered points on the board. This will be the fourth all-time playoff contest between the two successful programs.
“Dover is Dover, and you really need to prepare for a 48-minute battle,” Big Red coach Reno Saccoccia said earlier this week. “The most important thing on our defensive agenda this week is focus.
“You have to be focused on every play. You must focus on their window dressing and focus on what players they have in the game. You also need to focus on your assignment. As soon as you lose focus, you are in trouble because Dover is great at taking advantage of your mistakes.”
Molk got the start against Tallmadge in place of junior starter Ayden Hall. He completed 16 of his 20 passing attempts for 323 yards. His seven touchdown passes tied Perci Garner (2005) and Mason Mamarella (2013) for a school record.
Senior wide receiver Nathan Ravine caught five TD passes to tie Daniel Ifft (2005) in the Dover record book. He ended up with seven receptions for 142 yards.
Junior Evan Klar added four catches for 104 yards and a score, while senior Jacob Hostetler had five grabs for four 67 yards and a score.
Hall, who threw for 136 yards in the Week 2 loss, and junior wide receiver Matthew Dummermuth were quarantined after being in a class with a fellow student who was later diagnosed with COVID-19. Both are expected to play Friday.
“We expect their starting quarterback (Hall) to play, but I’ll tell you want — their second quarterback was accurate, cool, calm and collected,” Saccoccia said. “I would have to say Dover has two really good quarterbacks on its team.
“The thing with Dover is you really don’t stop anything. You look to slow them down and make them earn everything they get. Hopefully, we can win the field position game and make them have to drive the field on us. They only have to complete 1 out of 3 passes to make a first down. We want to keep the pressure on them and hope they miss that one pass.”
Hostetler leads Dover’s rushing attack. He and the quarterbacks operate behind an offensive line featuring Ryan McVicker, Tyler Little and Michael Beal.
Saccoccia does not see any real advantage in the fact that the teams already have squared off this season.
“I would say if two teams played in Week 9 or Week 10 and then played again in Week 11, things might be different,” he said. “We are a lot different team than we were in Game 2, and Dover certainly is, also. Timing is a key component in the passing game, and Dover has had plenty of opportunities since Week 2 to improve in every aspect of the passing game.
“Dover is a very well-coached team, and I believe we are, also. We are a well-oiled team and, again, so is Dover. You tend to improve as the season goes along and Dover has.”
With the win against Tallmadge, Dover improved to 3-4 on the season.
Offensively, Big Red, which sports a 4-2 mark, is averaging 31 points an outing and 373 yards (246 on the ground and 127 through the air). Saccoccia’s offense has generated 41 points per game in its last two outings (two of the points in the Youngstown East contest came on a safety). The defense is yielding 111 rushing yards, 119 in passing yardage and 20 points.
Spencer Ostovich is Big Red’s top ground gainer with 541 yards on 98 carries and seven rushing touchdowns. The hard-running sophomore had a coming out party of sorts in the Week 2 Dover game after starting tailback Rodney James and his primary backup, Joshua Boffman, went down with injuries. He toted the rock 30 times, compiling 143 yards and scoring the final touchdown.
Senior Nate McShan has 309 yards on 67 trips and two touchdowns. James, a junior, returned to action against East and has 205 yards on 34 carries. He has scored three times.
Senior quarterback Cade Kernahan has thrown for 732 yards and nine TDs. He is completing 54 percent of his passes. Senior Jared Roberts is his top target (13 catches for 141 yards). Junior Brenton Jones has 11 grabs for 180 and two scores. Senior Aaron Ferguson has grabbed 10 Kernahan aerials for 117 yards and a pair of 6-pointers.
“Offensively against Dover, we have to execute,” Saccoccia said. “When we have executed on offense in our last five games, we were pretty successful. Execution on offense and focus on defense are the key words for us this week.”