By ED LOOMAN
For the Intelligent
STEUBENVILLE – A few Ohio Valley heavyweights will face off in an early-season showdown at Harding Stadium on Friday when Big Red takes on Wheeling Park.
The Big Red are 2-0 after wins over Division I Olentangy Liberty (22-7) and New Philadelphia (41-7). Park used some big passing plays and a late defensive stance to win his first game in St. Clairsville 18-14. With the win, the Patriots ended a five-year losing streak against the Red Devils.
The kickoff of the 15th meeting (Steubenville has a 13-1 lead) between the class 5A OVAC schools is set at 7 p.m. Ahead of the game, the Big Red Boosters Club will resume their Legends Night celebration in 2020 due to COVID), honoring the senior members of the 1993 Steubenville squad.
Park’s debut featured 11 new starters on the attacking side of football. Junior Brett Phillips (6-2, 175) replaced veteran coach Chris Daugherty’s quarterback and put in an impressive performance.
Phillips connected with sophomore speedster Jerrae Hawkins for 61 yards. On what turned out to be the winning drive, the duo connected for a gain of 44 yards. In total, Hawkins caught five passes for 134 yards.
Senior Hunter Nixon (5-11, 175) is Park’s main threat as a running back. Nixon is a three-year-old linebacker starter. Senior Brandon Murphy will also get some races.
“The name of the game today is speed and Wheeling Park has a lot of speed,” Big Red coach Reno Saccoccia said. “Park coaches know how to use this speed. They are a quality, well-trained football team.
“Defensively, our goals will remain the same. We want to stop the race and attack the pass. You cannot take both away from an opponent. They will complete their passes. Where speed hurts a defense is when you give them yards after a catch. We have to be good tacklers in the secondary and not give them yards after the catch. “
On the offensive front, Park has a lot of size. Junior lineman Mike Hogan is 6ft 4in and goes 325. Zayne Ackley is 6ft 0.250. Merrick Miller and Zach Parsons also provide size and skill on the line.
“They have size and talent up front,” said Saccoccia. “They have 300 pounds in the middle and the two guards.
“It’s going to be a fight in the trenches and our defenses will have to be ready. “
Through two games, Big Red’s defense has risen to the challenge. The unit allowed 14 points and limited their opponents to just 14 first tries.
On the ground, the defense allows 64.5 yards per game. In the air, the average is 73 meters. Big Red’s enemies ran the ball 54 times for an average per run of 2.4 yards.
Steubenville delivered nine takeaways – two interceptions and seven fumble recoveries.
In the New Philadelphia game, junior Spencer Ostovich recorded six tackles for a loss and forced two fumbles from his defensive line. Senior linebacker Brandon Kinney made five tackles and also caused a fumble. Senior Rodney James, second Javin Harper, junior Tylik Sims and second Peyton Gorby all managed to recover from fumbles. James turned his into a 36-yard touchdown.
Offensively, the Saccoccia club averages 31.5 points per game, 250 yards on the ground and 210 via the pass. Big Red is averaging 6.6 yards per rushing attempt.
James carried the rock 34 times for 292 yards (he’s averaging 8.6 yards per trip) and four touchdowns. He interrupted a 66-yard run against Olentangy.
Sophomore Savier Faulks came off Saccoccia’s bench to compile 66 rushing yards against New Philly. In two games, Ostovich used his 12 carries to gain 64 yards.
Junior Phaeton Hill has been solid in his two starts at quarterback. Hill completed 25 of his 41 attempts (a 61% completion rate) for 420 yards and three touchdowns.
Sophomore Isaac Hill leads Big Red in reception with six catches for 117 yards. Senior Brenton James has four catches for 114 yards and two touchdowns while James also has four catches. Phaeton Hill and Jones connected for scores of 31 and 67 yards in the New Philadelphia game.
“We are not going to change what we do,” Saccoccia said. “Every day in practice we focus on making things better.
“They’re going to see what we’re doing and try to take it off. Hopefully we have a good week of training and that on Friday we’ll be ready to do what we do best.
NIGHT OF LEGENDS
In 1993, Saccoccia guided the Big Red to a 9-1 record. Steubenville dropped a 31-13 verdict against Massillon Perry in Week 9.
Big Red bounced back to close their regular season by beating Akron Hoban 42-20. Sadly, the team was sure to earn a berth in the Ohio playoffs.
“It will be good to see these guys,” Saccoccia said of his 1993 seniors. “There were some really good players on this team. It was a difficult year for us because we did not make the playoffs.
“Youngstown East and Youngstown Rayen were to face each other in the last week. We had beaten them both, so we expected to gain more points in the playoffs. Then there was a strike in the Youngstown school system, so the game was not played. It kept us from making the playoffs. “