NEWARK - Perhaps there was no better leader for an eight seed than No. 8, himself.
Big Red sophomore Mandela Lawrence-Burke fought through a handful of mishaps to stay the course and hold on for a classic Steubenville victory.
"He's a gifted athlete," said Licking Valley coach Randy Baughman after his team's 21-14 defeat in the first round of the Division IV playoffs.
SIX — Big Red quarterback Mandela Lawrence-Burke scores the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter.
This was Big Red holding on, literally.
Lawrence-Burke fumbled twice in the first half, but maintained possession for positive yardage. He lost one in the second half but made perhaps the biggest offensive play of the game off a botched snap.
Lining up to punt on a fourth-and-two early in the fourth quarter, Lawrence-Burke lost a handle on the ball and scrambled to the right side, finding Bryan Pierro for a 25-yard gain, keeping the drive alive.
"He sure made some plays," Baughman said. "He doesn't play like a sophomore. It seemed like he was making big play, after big play. He was something special."
Lawrence-Burke carried 19 for 82 yards and a rushing touchdown. That brings his total on the year to 101 attempts for 385 yards and two scores. On Friday, was went 12 of 17 passing for 122 yards, hitting four different receivers. On the year, he is 59 of 117 for 707.
"He's such a big complement to that running game," Baughman said. "They have two power guys and he has great speed and quickness. Steubenville can pound people inside. And with his ability to slash and create plays on his own, it's hard to stop.
"That's a lethal combination."
Lawrence-Burke also played a hand in a dominant Big Red defensive effort which limited Licking Valley senior quarterback Grant Garber to just five pass completions on 14 attempts. Steubenville held the Panthers to a total of 71 on just 19 plays in the second half.
"They dominated us," Baughman said. "I don't know how many plays we ran that second half but it was very, very limited. I think we got wore down a little bit. We kind of ran out of gas. I don't know that they did anything different to disrupt us in the second half, they're just so quick. We haven't seen that quickness too much before."
Lawrence-Burke broke up five passes as a defensive back, including two interceptions. He picked off Garber on Licking Valley's first possession of the second quarter, which set up Big Red's first scoring drive. It was just a two-play drive, sparked by a 27-yard pass from Lawrence-Burke to Pierro, ending with an 18-yard run by Robert Hayden.
"They came out and executed well and just ran right at us," Baughman said.
Lawrence-Burke also had a hand in arguably Steubenville's biggest defensive play of the game.
A deja vu play for the Panthers.
Burke picked off Garber, again, as Licking Valley was driving with just over two minutes left in the game. He intercepted it on the 5-yard line and returned it out to the 30 to start Steubenville's second to last possession.
"All three games that we've lost," Baughmna said, "we've been inside the 10-yard line with a chance to win them."
The Panthers fell at Philo, 26-21, in Week 2 and 30-23 to Granville in the final game of the regular season.
Big Red moves to a Week 12 game with Maysville next week.
Steubenville beat Maysville last year in the first round of the playoffs. The Panthers helped Big Red get into the postseason this year with their last-second Week 10 win against Claymont.
The site for the game, perhaps at St. Clairsville, will be made official on Sunday.