ST. CLAIRSVILLE — For the first time since 2017, Reno Saccoccia will have the opportunity to enjoy a beloved holiday tradition — practicing with his Steubenville Big Red soccer team on Thanksgiving Day.
Saccoccia’s team won the Division IV, Region 15 championship by dominating Indian Valley 41-7 on a cold Saturday night in front of a large crowd at St. Clairsville’s Red Devil Stadium.
Next up for the 12-2 Big Red is a Final Four date with undefeated Cincinnati Wyoming. The 14-0 Cowboys won the Region 16 title with a 7-0 win over Cincinnati Taft.
The other Division IV semifinal pits Cleveland Glenville, who defeated Van Wert in the Region 14 finals, against Jefferson Area. The sixth-placed Falcons stunned top-seeded West Branch to take the Region 13 crown.
“I’m just happy first for our seniors and then for the whole team,” Saccoccia said after watching his side pull up the program’s 19th regional championship trophy. “These seniors have done a really good job since they were fifth grade at the lift club. They worked hard for it and guided our juniors and sophomores.
“These seniors have raised the bar. Their hard work and dedication has brought us back to where we have at least some sense of accomplishment now.”
Indian Valley, who finished their stellar season 10-4, came into the game averaging 263 rushing yards per outing and 32 points. Big Red’s quick and physical defense kept the Braves to just 52 yards of total offense in 40 games. Indian Valley ran the football 30 times for just 44 yards. IV’s pair of 1,000-yard rushers (Grady Kinsey and Gavin Henry) combined for just 15 yards.
The Steubenville defense forced three turnovers (fumble recoveries from Alikwon Harris and Ayden Manning, and an interception from Spenser Ostovich on a halfback pass).
Meanwhile, Big Red’s offense amassed 487 yards (202 rushing and 285 passing) and converted four of their first five possessions into points.
“We played well on offense, defense and special teams,” Said Saccocia. “We had a great game and that speaks for the preparation. Our kids have worked hard to prepare for this game and we’ve had a great week of training.
“I’m happy for everyone. I’m happy for our coaches who put together a great game plan and I’m happy for our players who implemented the game plan. Right now that’s the most important thing – executing the plan and I thought we did a great job tonight.”
Big Red’s only real mistake came in the penalty department. It drew 15 flags for 128 yards.
“I’ve been saying that all year and this was our 14th week, we need to correct the penalties,” said Saccoccia. “We haven’t fixed them yet, so we probably won’t.”
Steubenville’s first possession began from his own 23 yards. After a 7-yard pass from Phaeton Hill to Isaac Hill and some runs from Gavin Bozica, Savier Faulks broke loose for 59 yards. He was stripped of the football at Indian Valley 15, but Ty Pierce vigilantly picked up the loose pigskin and drove the final 11 yards for a touchdown, his first of the season. Cole Bowers converted the kick to make it 7-0 at the 9:48 mark of the first quarter.
After defense forced a three and out, Big Red’s offense got back to work with his own 28. Three plays netted seven yards, but Ostovich kept the march going with a 5-yard gain on a fake punt. Two snaps later, Phaeton Hill connected with Ivan Buggs for a 55-yard score. Bowers split the posts again.
Big Red’s next result came early in the second quarter after a 63-yard march. Kyjhaun Hopkins capped it off with a 3-yard run. The hill-to-hill combination accounted for 27 of the yards and Ostovich again delivered a key carry to convert a fourth and three and the Indian Valley seven. A pass for the two-point conversion failed.
Indian Valley’s only touchdown came at 6:56 before the break. Quarterback Kolton Thomas ran 27 yards for the six-pointer. The result came after Breydan Parsons recovered from a Steubenville fumble at the Big Red 22. Thomas scored after the Braves were hit with a false start penalty.
It only took Big Red nine snaps to answer the IV score. On the first down from Steubenville 20, Phaeton Hill hit Tylik Sims with a short swing pass. Sims walked all the way to Indian Valley 20 before going down. Zach Smith scored the touchdown after a 1-yard jump. Hakim Edwards ran for the conversion and it was 28-7 Big Red at the break.
After a goalless third quarter, Steubenville found the end zone again with 9:22 to go. Phaeton Hill and Buggs tied for the second time, that touchdown spanning 14 yards. Hayden Hicks got the extra point.
A 12-yard run by Jalen Minniefield, which came after Manning’s fumbled recovery, ended scoring and entered the OHSAA’s 30-point grace rule. In the attempt to rebuild, injured seniors Cooper Blackburn and Cam Daley trotted onto the field and lined up at the tight end and in tackles respectively. After receiving the snap, Manning immediately knelt.
“I didn’t want to say anything to anyone, but I knew in the back of my mind that if we had the opportunity, I wanted to.” Saccoccia said he is giving Blackburn and Daley a chance to be on the field in the regional championship game. “I hope these two guys appreciate us as much as we appreciate them.”
Phaeton Hill completed 20 of his 26 passes for 285 and two touchdowns. He threw two interceptions. Isaac Hill led the Big Red with nine grabs for 81 yards. Sims had three catches for 81 and Lee Anthony Sewell had three for 46.
Faulks led the ground game with 110 yards on 11 drives.
“I want to thank everyone, especially the media, who really support us.” Said Saccocia. “I want to thank our fans, our boosters and our parents. I would like to thank everyone who stayed with us.
“I know I’m not the easiest person to get along with, but I’m really glad our parents trusted me with their sons.”
Big Red and Cincinnati Wyoming meet this Saturday at Historic Crew Stadium in Columbus. Kick-off is set for 7pm and Big Red will be the designated home side.
The Division IV championship game is scheduled for Saturday, December 3 at 7:30 p.m. at the Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton.
“Practice on Thanksgiving – that’s nice,” Said Saccocia.
Wyoming has won four regional championships in the past five seasons. The Cowboys won a state title in 2018 and dropped to the semifinals in 2019 and 2020.
Leading the offense is running back CJ Hester, who has committed to continuing his soccer career in Western Michigan. Hester scored on a 59-yard rush in the regional finals to finish for 137 yards. He’s passed the century mark, scoring at least one touchdown in every game this season. Hester is 33 rushing yards away from 3,000 for the season and 28 from 7,000 for his career.
Wyoming’s defense has only allowed five touchdowns all season. It is one of only seven teams in Ohio high school football history to record 10 shutouts in a single season.
Big Red fans are reminded that tickets must be purchased in advance at www.ohsaa.org/tickets
Ticket sales start this afternoon.
Steubenville now has an all-time playoff record of 73-30.
Steubenville 41, Indian Valley 7
Indian Valley 0 7 0 0
Big red 14 14 0 13
BIG RED: Pierce 11 run with fumble recovery (bowers kick)
BIG RED: Bugg’s 55 pass from P. Hill (Bowers Kick)
BIG RED: Hopkins 3-run (pass failed)
INDIAN VALLEY: Thomas 27 run (Miller Kick)
BIG RED: Smith 1 run (Edwards run)
BIG RED: Buggs 14 pass from P. Hill (Hicks Kick)
BIG RED: Minniefield 12 Run (Big Red knelt)
RUSHING: Indian Valley 30-44-1 (Thomas 12-31-1; Kinsey 10-15; Henry 7-0; Burcher 1-(-2)); Big Red 42-202-4 (Faulks 11-110; Bozica 13-41; Minniefield 5-15-1; Ostovich 3-9; Hopkins 3-1-1; Edwards 1-5; Pierce 1-11-1; Smith 1-1-1, P Hill 2-0, West 1-1, Bryant 1-1).
PASSING: Indian Valley 3-10-8-Int (Thomas 3-9-8; Henry 0-1-Int); Big Red 20-27-285-2-2ints (P Hill 20-26-285-2-2ints; Manning 0-1)
RECALL: Indian Valley 3-8 (Henry 3-8); Big Red 20-285-2 (I. Hill 9-81; Sims 3-81; Sewell 3-46; Buggs 2-69-2; Edwards 1-5; Pierce 1-4; Kernahan 1-(-1)) .
FIRST DOWNS: Indian Valley 4, Big Red 23.
PENALTY YARDS: Indian Valley 4-25; Big Red 15-128.
PUNTS: Indian Valley 8-32; Big Red 2-39.
FUMBEL-LOST: Indian Valley 2-2; Big Red 2-1.
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