STEUBENVILLE - Next up for undefeated Steubenville is a Friday-night visit to Youngstown State University's Stambaugh Stadium for a game against three-time defending Ohio Division V state champion Youngstown Ursuline.
The host Irish, 24-3 winners against Steubenville last season during their trip to Harding Stadium where Big Red rarely loses, remains a dangerous opponent despite their current 1-3 record.
''They've played a meat-grinder schedule,'' veteran Steubenville coach Reno Saccoccia said.
Ursuline finally got into the victory column last week with a hard-earned, 13-9 victory against previously undefeated Zanesville. The Irish losses have come against three rugged opponents - 54-18 to Red Lion Christian Academy out of Delaware, 9-0 to Lake Catholic and 38-27 to Mentor.
Traditional Ohio powers Mentor and Lake Catholic enter this weekend with 4-0 records while Red Lion stands 2-1.
''I googled them (Red Lion) and saw this is a private school which has players from all over,'' Saccoccia pointed out.''Some of their players come from Texas and Oklahoma and their freshman quarterback gave a commitment as a seventh grader to Southern California.
''Except for the Red Lion game, Ursuline has played very well on defense. They do an excellent job of tackling. Offensively, they really try to keep you off-balance. They run right to the line and not allow you (time) to get in a defensive huddle or change any groupings.''
Up front, Ursuline is huge as it starts a trio of 300-pounders on the offensive line. The Irish roster also is sprinkled with three-year starters in the backfield and linebacker. Nearly all of them played key roles on Ursuline's last two state championship clubs.
According to game reports, the Irish had to overcome five turnovers before finally taking advantage of a Zanesville mistake early in the fourth quarter to score the game-winning touchdown. After recovering a Blue Devils fumble inside the 20, Ursuline pushed the ball into the end zone on a run from a yard out by Trevor Smith.
Leading the Irish rushing game was tailback Jesse Curry with 187 yards, most of his total coming in the second half.
Zanesville did dent the Irish secondary for a 73-yard touchdown pass for a 9-7 lead in the second half. However, on the ground, the Blue Devils managed a net of 41 yards.
Steubenville, ranked No.1 last week by The Associated Press on the Ohio Division III poll, turned in another dominating performance during a 40-6 romp against cross-river rival Brooke in the Battle of the Bridge. Led by Jo Jo Pierro's 133 yards and three touchdowns on 15 carries, Saccoccia's team collected 308 yards rushing and 183 yards passing as quarterback Marcus Prather hit on 10 of 20 attempts.
''Jo Jo has done a great job running the ball,'' Saccoccia said.''His sight has improved, so has his energy to finish off runs.
''Prather is the most-unselfish kid we have. He doesn't care who carries the ball into the end zone. He just wants to win.''
Saccoccia also couldn't be more pleased with the way Big Red is growing as a team.
''I really thought after two or three games we were just average. Talent-wise, we have had teams in the past with more skill, but like I tell our kids, it is not the skill that makes a team great. It's the will.
''We always play hard and we are getting better skill-wise. We just need to keep developing the will.''
The ''will" on the defensive side of the ball continues to be a team strength heading into the midway point of the season.
Big Red has yielded a total of three touchdowns and 21 points in four games. The offense meanwhile is averaging 39 points per game, the season low being 22 during a hard-earned victory against 2010 state finalist Akron Buchtel.
Among the ringleaders on the defense are Ohio State University recruit Najee Murray, LeShawn Luke, William Houst, Michael Camilletti. Michael Jett, Dashon Redman and Davon Wicker. Against Brooke, Wicker graded out at 98 percent on defense and 93 percent on offense, scary numbers if you are a Big Red opponent.
Offensively, the graduation0depleted Big Red offensive line continues to improve, paving the way for Pierro, Prather and Luke to rack up impressive numbers.
Health-wise, Steubenville also is getting stronger. Expected to return to the lineup this week are running back-linebacker Lucky McClurg and tight end-defensive end Eric Robinson.
''In two weeks, we hope to have (defensive corner-wide receiver) Tajuan Lawson back. We've really missed those three kids,'' Saccoccia added
Tomorrow night's contest will be the final road outing of the regular season for Big Red. Steubenville returns home one week from Friday night to play up-river rival East Liverpool.