STEUBENVILLE - While you can't win them all, Friday's game was one Big Red could have won but didn't.
Big plays, defensive breakdowns and inability to convert several fourth-and-short situations brought Big Red its first regular-season loss in six years, as Inkster, Michigan stopped Steubenville's streak at 68 with a 36-29 victory at Harding Stadium.
The lead switched hands all night and with 1:19 remaining on the clock, Big Red took a one-point edge on TD run by JoJo Pierro. Steubenville had been down by two scores with 5 minutes left, but battled back. Unfortunately so did the Vikings. The Red saw their perfect season dashed when Inkster quarterback and Michigan recruit Devin Gardner connected with Vorheese Zanders on a 63-yard scoring strike. The touchdown came with 49 seconds left, and Gardner ran in for an extra two points to put Big Red seven points behind.
Big Red’s JoJo Pierro bursts into the end zone Friday night against Inkster.
Steubenville's final attempt at the end zone was intercepted.
And with that, the streak was finished.
''These kids have carried a lot of weight on their shoulders and they've handled it well. You can't win them all,'' Big Red coach Reno Saccoccia said. ''Our teams have had a lot to live up to over the last few years, this team in particular. Nobody likes to lose, but losing is a part of football.''
The Vikings' victory also ended Big Red's 60-game home streak. While the Steubenville teams that built those streaks should be commended, a regular season loss is far from the end of world, let alone the season.
''I know it hurts right now, but it's a regular-season game and there's still 48 minutes of football left to be played in the regular season,'' Saccoccia added. ''We'll bounce back from this. We'll come back Monday and get back to work. We'll get over this.''
Big Red found themselves in a hole early, and for the first time all season when Inkster took the opening kickoff 80 yards on 14 plays. The 6-minute drive was capped off when Gardner, who finished with 275 yards passing, hit Jonathan Taylor, who finished with 134 yards receiving, on a 15-yard TD pass. The pass after failed, and the Vikings led 6-0.
Steubenville answered the long, time-consuming drive with one its own. Big Red moved the ball 68 yards on 16 running plays, reaching paydirt when JoJo Pierro ran in from 2 yards out at 10:12 in the second quarter. Anthony Pierro hit the uprights for the lead.
Inkster kept coming, scoring on its second possession. That drive covered 69 yards and ended with a Gardner-to-Taylor TD connection of 5 yards. Like the Vikings' first score, the pass after failed.
Steubenville again answered. Macon took it in that time from 7 yards out with 1:30 left in the first half. A conversion pass to Sage Cutri from Macon was complete.
Things looked good for Big Red. They led 15-12 at the break and got the ball back to start the second half. But what looked promising soon became problematic. Macon, banged up in the first half, didn't start the third. Anthony Pierro took over under center, but three plays into the quarter he was intercepted by Inkster's Donovan Lindsay, who returned it near midfield. That set up a 54-yard, seven-play march. Again, the Vikings aired it out and Gardner found Deon Butler from 25 yards away. A pass to Taylor after the TD made it a 20-15 game.
Big Red's second possession of the second half ended when Steubenville failed to convert fourth-and-2 at the Inkster 29. Big Red then held Inkster to three-and-out for the first time, but came up short at fourth-and-3 on its next possession.
Steubenville's defense stepped up again when a hard hit forced Devin Bell - a 110-yard rusher on the night - to cough up the ball. Jordan Banks fell on the fumble and the Red were back in business.
But like the two possessions before Big Red turned it over on downs when it couldn't get 2 yards on fourth down at the Inkster 14.
Big Red's defenders couldn't hold the Vikings for a third-straight time.
Inkster moved 86 yards, thanks to a 56-yard pass to Taylor, and scored when Gardner ran it in from the 10. The pass to Butler was good and, with 5:06 left to be played, the Vikings led, 28-15.
''It was back and forth all night. Inkster is a very good football team, but I have to give my kids credit too,'' Saccoccia said. ''We were down by two possessions and didn't give up. We gave ourselves a chance to win it. We just came up short.''
Big Red did everything they had to stay in the fight. It took Big Red 45 seconds to pull within one score when they covered 68 yards with a series of sideline runs by Macon, who was responsible for 148 of Big Red's 312 rushing yards. Dominic Garay gave Big Red the six points when he hauled down a Macon pass in the end zone at 4:21. The kick after was wide.
Flags also played a hand in Big Red's rally, as a rattled Inkster committed four straight penalties to end up second-and-37 at their own 5. Big Red poured on the pressure and Gardner was pulled down in the end zone for a Steubenville safety at 3:10.
Jordan Meyer then returned the kickoff to midfield. Macon again utilized the sideline and controlled the clock with short runs. A pass to DeShawn Luke ate up 27 yards and put the ball on the Inkster 3. JoJo Pierro then took it in.
With a little more than a minute left, it looked good for the Red, but Gardner hit Zanders on the back-breaking play to seal the deal for Vikings.
''I'd like to congratulate Inkster on the win, but I also want to congratulate our players on their efforts. Both teams should be commended for what was a good high-school football game,'' Saccoccia said. ''I'd also like to thank the fans who came out here in the rain to support our team. It was a good game, but it just wasn't our night.''