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Dons get No. 7 seed Greenbrier West; Big Red closes year

December 2, 2013
By ED LOOMAN - Sports correspondent , The Herald-Star

When the high school football season began back in the heat of August, most people felt Madonna would again play for a West Virginia Class A championship.

The senior-laden Blue Dons, now 13-0, didn't disappoint. Doug Taylor's crew is back in the Super Six for the second consecutive year and will battle Greenbrier West on Saturday for the state title.

On the other hand, few people believed Big Red would come within one victory of competing for an Ohio Division IV crown.

Article Photos

RUNNING — Steubenville Big Red sophomore Devin Ferguson runs with the ball in loss to Cardinal Mooney.
-- Mike Mathison

Following a 42-22 setback to Wheeling Park, its third straight loss, Big Red's chances of even reaching the post-season were in serious jeopardy. Then came a Week 10 win over Renaissance Christian Academy along with a little help from others.

Reno Saccoccia's club received new life when it landed the eighth seed in Region 13. The Red went on a roll, winning three in a row and capturing the school's 14th regional championship. The magical run ended via a 37-7 loss to Youngstown Cardinal Mooney in the state semifinals.

One vs. Seven:

Fact Box

WEST VIRGINIA

Friday

CLASS AA

Championship

At Wheeling Island Stadium

No. 1 Wayne vs. No. 2 Bridgeport, 7:30 p.m.

Saturday

CLASS AAA

Championship

At Wheeling Island Stadium

No. 1 Huntington vs. No. 2 Martinsburg, noon

CLASS A

Championship

At Wheeling Island Stadium

No. 1 Madonna vs. No. 7 Greenbrier West, 7 p.m.

OHIO

Thursday

Division III

at Massillon Paul Brown Tiger Stadium

Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary (14-0) vs. Trotwood-Madison (11-2), 7 p.m.

Friday

Division VI

at Canton Fawcett Stadium

Kirtland (14-0) vs. Haviland Wayne Trace (13-1), 11 a.m.

Division IV

at Massillon Paul Brown Tiger Stadium

Youngstown Cardinal Mooney (10-4) vs. Clarksville Clinton-Massie (13-1), 3 p.m.

Division II

at Canton Fawcett Stadium

Cleveland Glenville (13-1) vs. Loveland (14-0), 7 p.m.

Saturday

Division V

at Massillon Paul Brown Tiger Stadium

Columbus Bishop Hartley (13-1) vs. Coldwater (12-2), 11 a.m.

Division I

at Canton Fawcett Stadium

Mentor (13-1) vs. Cincinnati Archbishop Moeller (13-1), 3 p.m.

Division VII

at Massillon Paul Brown Tiger Stadium

Glouster Trimble (14-0) vs. Maria Stein Marion Local (14-0), 7 p.m.

Saturday's Class A title game at Wheeling Island Stadium, set to start at 7 p.m., will pit No. 1 Madonna against 12-1 Greenbrier West, the seventh seed.

The Dons punched their ticket to the Super Six with a 42-28 come from behind victory over Williamstown. West, based in Charmco, clipped Magnolia 21-14. The trip to the title game is the first for West since 1994, when it was a Class AA team.

Quarterback Malik Boatwright paced West in the victory over the Blue Eagles, running for 166 yards on 15 carries and a touchdown. His score came via a 66 stripe scamper. He also passed for 35 and two additional six-pointers.

The only blemish on the Cavaliers' record is a 27-20 loss to Summers County in September. Madonna and West have one common opponent in Clarksburg Notre Dame. The Irish were beaten 54-7 by the Cavaliers in the opening round of the post-season. Madonna, meanwhile, thumped N.D. 75-16 in mid-October.

The Blue Dons, of course, dropped a heart-breaking 43-42 overtime decision to Wahama in the 2012 state final.

"These seniors, we just keep rolling," Madonna's Ross Comis said following the Williamstown game. "We're not going to stop until we get that championship next week."

Remember 5-4:

As Saccoccia pointed out, Big Red was beaten "by a very good football team" on Friday in Canton.

Mooney, the Region 11 winner, will take a 10-5 mark into the Division IV title game opposite Clarksville Clinton-Massie, the defending state champ.

"I told the guys after the game that I'll never forget this team," Saccoccia said. "All I wanted them to do was think back to when we were 5-4 (Big Red's record following the loss to Park).

"It was a very tough loss, nobody likes to lose but I love this team - 5-4, that's all I am going to say. The 5-4 record will stick in my mind every time I think about the 2013 team."

The Week 10 victory allowed Big Red to reach the playoffs for the 13th consecutive year. The win over Indian Valley in the regional title bout was Big Red's 50th in the post-season. Saccoccia's club along with Delphos St. John's in Division VII were the only two eight seeds to reach the semifinals.

Number 32:

Madonna will play its 32nd West Virginia playoff game when it tangles with Greenbrier West. The Dons now stand at 21-10 all-time.

Madonna is in the playoffs for the 13th time overall and has qualified in each of the past seven seasons.

It was huge:

Field position played a huge role in Big Red's loss to Cardinal Mooney. Consider the following:

Of Mooney's 10 possessions, six started inside Big Red's territory. The first Cardinal series began at the 43 following Mark Handel's kickoff return. It resulted in a touchdown.

Possession seven began at the Big Red 21 (Mooney recovered a fumble) and produced another score. The next two drives started at the 31 and 36 and both resulted in scores.

Big Red, on the other hand, began all 11 of its touches inside its own territory (averages field position was the 24 yard line).

Its best starting spot was its own 46 and that drive stalled due to a penalty. Big Red's only scoring drive began at its own 25.

The 9,000 man:

Thanks to his performance against Williamstown, Comis went over the 9,000 yard mark for his high school career.

The outstanding senior quarterback had 214 in the semifinal victory (142 on the ground and 72 via the air). Madonna's all-time offensive yardage leader, Comis has 4,716 career yards rushing and 4,290 passing (a total of 9,006).

Comis now has accounted for 69 touchdowns rushing and 47 passing.

Meanwhile, Eliott Nero, Comis' mate in the Madonna backfield, has surpassed the 2,000 yard mark in offense for the season. The senior has run for 1,725 and caught 26 passes for an additional 341 stripes, giving him 2,066 through 13 games.

Comis and Nero are averaging more than eight yards per carry this season.

Stellar D's:

Both defenses played well in Friday's Big Red-Cardinal Mooney semifinal clash.

Mooney held Big Red to just 2.3 yards per rushing attempt while the Cardinals were limited to 3.6

On its 57 offensive plays, Mooney averaged 4.3 stripes per snap. Big Red finished at 3.1

Of the 21 total possessions, 12 ended with punts.

Big Red was just two of 12 on third down conversions and Mooney finished four for 11.

By the numbers:

When the 2013 football season began, Ohio had 714 schools fielding teams. With the expansion to seven divisions this year, 224 of those teams or 31.4 percent of football playing schools qualified for the playoffs.

The playoffs began in 1972 with three divisions (Class A, AA and AAA) and one qualifier per region (12 total qualifiers). The first expansion occurred in 1980 to five divisions and two qualifiers per region and then again in 1985 to four qualifiers per region.

In 1994, a sixth division was added while in 1999, the number of qualifiers per region increased to eight.

Final call:

The semifinal loss to Mooney brought the careers of 12 Big Red seniors to an end.

Playing their final game for coach Reno Saccoccia were:

Bryan Pierro, Cody Saltsman, Perrier Coleman, Cam King, Robert Hayden, Kai McClurg, Garon Lytle, Arin Goldsmith, John Paul Duff, Tyler Ingram, Jaylin Williams and Chris Starliper.

Saltsman, Hayden and Lytle all missed considerable time due to the injuries. An injury forced Pierro to sit out one game.

Playoff trivia:

A check of all-time Ohio playoff participants reveals each school in Jefferson County has played in the post-season.

Big Red, of course, leads the way with its 26 appearances, 50 victories and three championships. Catholic Central has qualified 11 times and captured one state title.

Buckeye Local has reached the post-season seven times, finishing second in in 1994. Buckeye South was the first county team to reach the playoffs in 1980. Buckeye North made it in 1986.

Toronto reached the post-season following the 1997, 1998, 1999 and 2000 seasons. Indian Creek has qualified three times (1996, 2011 and 2012). Wintersville advanced in 1985 while Mingo Junction made it in 1982, 1988 and 1989.

Edison has one appearance (2002). Jefferson Union appeared in 1987.

Future looks good:

Back in August, Saccoccia admitted his 2013 Big Red team "might be one of our youngest recently."

"We've had young teams before but this might be one of our youngest recently," he stated. "But, remember with youth comes enthusiasm and when you are enthusiastic, good things happen. Youth is still hungry."

Those hungry youth helped Big Red capture a regional championship and reach the Division IV semifinals.

Against Mooney, Big Red started eight underclassmen (four juniors and four sophomores) on offense and seven (three juniors, three sophomores and a freshman) on defense.

Four additional underclassmen (three sophomores and a junior) also saw action.

Sophomore quarterbacks Mandela Lawrence-Burke and Dimitri Collaros combined to throw for 1,669 yards while sophomore Johnnie Blue led the team in rushing with 797. Junior Lucas Herrington paced the squad in receptions with 32.

How it works:

In case you ever wondered, the Ohio High School Athletic Association says there are many factors that go into determining playoff sites, such as quality of field surface, seating capacity, quality of stadium lighting, size of locker rooms, press box size, parking spaces available, a separate locker room for officials and rental costs.

After all those factors are considered by the OHSAA, it must be confirmed that the site is available and willing to host a playoff game on the date needed.

Apparently, the condition of the stands doesn't matter.

Those attending the Big Red-Cardinal Mooney game at Fawcett Stadium Friday learned that firsthand. The bleachers were still covered with snow and ice while the areas between the rows of bleachers featured a considerable amount of snow and ice.