STEUBENVILLE - There are tough spots to be in a football game, and then there's where Morgantown was with 14 minutes left in a 31-9 beatdown administered by Steubenville on Thursday at Harding Stadium during an opening game of the McDonald's OVAC Kickoff Night.
At that point, the Mohigans (0-1) were down 31-0, were still in the red at minus-3 yards of offense, an astounding one-third of their 26 offensive plays were dumped for negative yardage by what was then a second- and third-team Big Red defense, and they had just one first down, that one more than 17 minutes earlier.
(Steubenville has outscored its foes 61-0 the last two home openers before they recorded their second first down).
Steubenville’s Michael Jett returns an interception for Steubenville during Thursday’s game against Morgantown.
Photo by Ron Gardner
Digging deeper, the Mohigans fumbled the first snap of the game, they had a bad snap on a punt covered up at their own 2, and they had an interception returned 28 yards to their own 17.
Throw in a few penalties and all of this left Morgantown coach John Bowers wondering ...
''We thought we had an offensive line, we don't have an offensive line,'' he said. ''We thought we had a quarterback, we didn't get much play out of that either. They mauled us.''
Three different Morgantown QBs were a combined 2 of 10 for 19 yards passing and had minus-10 yards on 10 carries.
''We need tough guys,'' he said. ''We're a bully sometimes. When we can beat teams, we're tough guys. When we get punched in the mouth, I don't know how tough we are. That's what a bully is.
''We fumbled the first snap. That sums the whole game up right there. We couldn't even do that.''
That first snap wound up being inconsequential, as starting quarterback Mark Johnson jumped right on it. It was a bouncing snap on their next possession - after they held Steubenville scoreless on its first drive - that began the avalanche.
With the line of scrimmage at their own 27, the fourth-down miss-exchange was eventually covered up near just this side of the goal line. Steubenville's JoJo Pierro, who had 59 yards on 13 carries, scored on the next play, putting his team up 7-0.
''I feel that was a helluva game,'' Steubenville coach Reno Saccoccia said, ''until they had that bad snap. We took advantage of it. We took advantage of their mistakes. They took advantage of our mistakes. But their mistakes led to opening the game.''
After another Mohigans three-and-out in which they lost 7 yards, Big Red (1-0) went to work again, this time out of a pistol formation and did their work through the air.
During their next three possessions, first-time starting quarterback Marcus Prather hit on 6 of 8 passes for 101 yards and three touchdowns, part of a scintillating 12 of 18 for 144-yard effort for the game. First, he hit Matt Petrella for a 24-yard score, then it was tight end Eric Robinson catching touchdown passes of 24 and 8 yards.
Big Red led 31-0 at the half - the 27-yard field goal by Luke Smith coming after Michael Jett's interception return deep into Mohigans territory - and Prather came back out for just three plays in the second half, completing two passes for 25 yards before giving way to junior Cory Stinson.
That was a similar scene game long for Big Red, beginning in the first quarter where three different tailbacks had already ran the ball. The substitutions were fast and furious.
''I don't care who's in the game,'' Saccoccia said. ''We expect them to do what they're told to do, do what they're taught, to do what they worked for their whole life.''
In the end, Steubenville's backups gave up nine points, two on a bad snap into the end zone on a punt, and seven on a 37-yard run by Conner Leone with 1:05 remaining in the third. It was during that run that Morgantown finally got into the black on total offense, as Leone took off left, cut back, then screamed toward the end zone.
''We're pretty good,'' Bowers said. ''It's just we can't play with them. So back to the drawing board, we'll see. Hopefully we can win a game.''
It turned out to be a familiar site at Harding, where the home team never loses an opener. Big Red played like it was Week 11.
''Probably because we were so bad all summer,'' Saccoccia joked. ''It caught up with us.''