STEUBENVILLE - Defending the field is a major focus for Steubenville this week as Reno Saccoccia's club prepare to entertain high-powered Cleveland Benedictine.
The tradition-rich programs will battle for the fifth time Friday (the series is tied at 2-2) on Legends Night at Harding Stadium. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.
"They have plenty of weapons," Saccoccia said. "They spread their weapons out and they spread them around. Their offense is designed to get the ball to all their weapons.
"We have to be ready to defend the entire field. We need to defend the run inside and out as well as the long pass."
The Bengals, under first-year coach Joe Schaefer, opened the season with a 45-13 rout of Parma Normandy. Benedictine ran 48 offensive plays against the Invaders, good for 484 yards (pretty much 10 yards per play).
Running back Jerome Baker, ranked by some scouting services as Ohio's top junior prospect (Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State already have offered a scholarship), is Benedictine's prime offensive weapon.
In the opener, he ran for 182 yards and two touchdowns and also caught a 22-yard scoring pass. Baker, who stands at 6-foot-2 and goes 205 pounds, averaged more than 10 yards per carry.
"He's obviously a very, very special kid," Schaefer said of Baker, who also starts at middle linebacker.
Baker has 10 carries for 54 yards and a score during last year's trip to Harding Stadium (a 32-28 Big Red victory).
"They have a strong running game with an outstanding back in Baker," Saccoccia stated. "Baker gets most of the attention but Rash is very good also. Plus, their sophomore quarterback (Brian Schoeffler) did an outstanding job against us last year. And, Calabrese (senior receiver Vince Calabrese) is a threat on the outside."
Dontez Rash, a 5-7, 168 sophomore, is considered Benedictine's change-of-pace scatback. He had 11 carries against Normandy for 159 yards and a couple of touchdowns.
Schoeffler completed four passes for 100 yards in the opener. He was 5 of 9 against Big Red a season ago for 73 yards.
Saccoccia described Benedictine as a "physical team."
"They have a two-platoon system except for four players," he added. "They have skill and their offensive line is much improved. Defensively, they get after it pretty well."
Junior Noah Cvijanovic (6-6, 210) mans the tight end spot for the Bengals while Allen Viancourt (6-2, 229) and Daniel Simko (6-1, 220) start at tackles. The guards are T.J. Beltavski (5-11, 260) and Thomas Bennett (6-2, 283). Nick DiGeronimo (5-10, 251) anchors the line from his center spot.
Baker leads the defense from his middle linebacker position. Defensive back Matt Merimee (6-3, 188) already has committed to Miami of Ohio, and defensive lineman Antonio Robinson (5-10, 223) has 99 tackles last season.
Big Red rolled to more than 300 yards in its 48-6 Week 1 victory against Detroit Central Collegiate. That yardage came via 28 offensive plays.
Junior Dondre Brown compiled 56 yards on three trips, sophomore quarterback Mandela Lawrence-Burke added 55 on two carries and senior Robert Hayden 42 via two carries.
Hayden sparked Big Red's victory in 2012, recording 56 rushing yards in the final quarter and scoring the decisive touchdown. Defensively, he made two key plays on the final Benedictine possession to preserve the victory.
Sophomore Dimitri Collaros started at quarterback for Big Red and completed 2 of his 3 passing attempts. Lawrence-Burke's only toss (a completion to Lucas Herrington) resulted in an 82-yard touchdown.