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Steubenville puts 10-0 record on the line

November 3, 2011
By ED LOOMAN - Sports correspondent , The Herald-Star

STEUBENVILLE - Each Big Red football season starts with two key goals: secure an opening round playoff game at home and capture a regional championship.

With goal one accomplished, the 10-0 Big Red will begin its quest for a Division III Region 11 title Friday when Indian Creek invades Harding Stadium. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.

Winners of six straight, the Redskins stand at 8-2 and are appearing in the postseason for the first time since 1996. Andrew Connor's club also captured a piece of its first Buckeye 8 championship.

"I'm happy for their coach, Andrew Connor," Big Red's Reno Saccoccia said. "I know how hard he works. I also know he had his heart set on taking his team to the playoffs when he got the job. I'm glad he was able to reach his first goal."

Saccoccia's program is in the Ohio playoffs for the 11th consecutive year.

"The playoffs are everything that you work for the whole year," he noted. "At the moment, we've only reached a piece of our goal-making the playoffs and getting a home game. Right now, we face the challenge of having a three-week season and it is one game at a time.

"This is the first step and it's going to be even better because of who we are playing. Our players know their players. I know a couple of their kids and some of their kids know me. Our parents know their parents. It's going to be a great game."

Friday's playoff opener will feature the top two offenses in The Herald Star/ Daily Times coverage area. Big Red averages 368 yards per outing and 36 points. Creek goes for 337 and 32.

"They run a multiple offense, using the spread, the tight end spread, wishbone and power I," Saccoccia said. "From what I have seen on film, they use pieces of their offense based on what the defense is doing."

Quarterback David Kemp has compiled some impressive statistics for Creek. He is 92 of 146 for 1,341 yards and 17 touchdowns.

He has been picked off just four times. Mike Furda has grabbed 34 Kemp tosses for 726 stripes and 11 scores. Mark Ludewig and Logan Woods pace the Creek ground attack.

In preparing his troops to face Creek's potent offense, Saccoccia has established a couple of goals.

"We have to get to the quarterback," he noted. "We have to make it our business to get there. When he is given time, he has been very successful.

"At the same time, if we are going to do that, we have to be ready to defend their screens and draws.

"Then we have to stop the trap. They probably run it more than most of the teams we have played this year. We have to keep that in the back of our heads."

During the regular season, the Big Red defense was pretty good at making life miserable for opposing offenses. The unit allows 186 yards a game (84 rushing and 102 passing) and just nine points.

When Big Red has the football, Saccoccia said his players will need "to be patient."

"They are a very good blitzing team," he added. "When you go against a blitzing team, you have to be patient."

The Creek defense surrenders 15 points per outing and 222 total yards (100 on the ground and 122 through the air). Connor's "D" has recorded two shutouts.

Big Red's one-two running back punch of Jo Jo Pierro and LeShawn Luke has combined for 1,350 yards and 21 touchdowns. Quarterback Marcus Prather has thrown for 1,342 stripes (92 of 146 with two interceptions) and 13 scores.

Speedy Najee Murray leads the Steubenville receiving corps with 17 catches. Matt Petrella has 16, Kelvin Grissom 14 and Evan Westlake 12.

Other first-round Region 11 matchups include:

No. 5 Canal Fulton Northwest at No. 4 Cardinal Mooney; No. 6 Poland at No. 3 Minerva; and No. 7 Thornville Sheridan at No. 2 Dover.

As he looks at the region in general, Saccoccia points out "anytime Mooney is part of something, it is strong."

"There are seven teams that would like to have what Mooney has," he said. "So I would say they are the team to beat in the region. Other than Mooney, the region is pretty well balanced. Mooney has proven they are the team to beat in order to get out of the region."

Based on its regular season performance, Big Red has captured the Ohio AP Division III poll championship. Saccoccia believes that accomplishment says "a lot about our program."

"It doesn't mean we are the best team in the state, but I feel the AP title tells our kids how much we are respected by people around the state," he said. "It tells our kids that people understand what they do and appreciate the effort they give."