Reno Saccoccia is pulling no punches as he prepares his Steubenville club to face Massillon on Friday.
"This is the best Massillon team we have faced in the five years since we began playing them again," he figures. "I say that basically because of their balance.
"They run the ball well, they can pass it and they play solid defense. Most important, they're very deep, particularly along the offensive and defensive lives. They play a lot of kids."
Big Red and the Tigers, two of Ohio's winningest programs, will do battle for the 47th time. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. Massillon holds a commanding 39-5-2 lead in the all-time series, but the record stands at 2-2 since the rivalry was revived in 2009.
Big Red posted victories on Reno Field in 2009 and 2011, while the Tigers won at Paul Brown Stadium in 2010 and 2012.
Both teams are 4-0 and ranked in the Ohio polls. Big Red is fourth in this week's AP Division IV poll while Massillon is the top-ranked Division II club. As far as the computer ratings go, Big Red is fourth in Region 13 and Massillon first in Region 4.
Massillon's victories have come over Massillon Perry (35-7), Canton Glen Oak (23-20 in overtime), Warren Harding (35-14) and Mentor Lake Catholic (35-6).
Through four games, Jason Hall's Tigers have shown the balance Saccoccia mentioned. Massillon's offense has compiled 723 yards rushing compared to 594 through the air.
Danny Clark, a 6-foot-3, 200-pound freshman, directs the Tigers attack. He has completed 35 of 58 passing attempts for 530 yards and six touchdowns. Clark has been picked off four times. He is believed to be the first ninth-grader to start at quarterback in Massillon history.
"Their quarterback is a steady player," Saccoccia said. "He has improved every game. He's very athletic and is going to be really, really good. Right now, he has been basically improving every week."
Junior Reggie Rogers (6-1, 185) is Clark's favorite target. The receiver has 15 receptions for 262 yards and five touchdowns. Senior Marcus Whitfield (6-2, 185) has 13 catches, good for 201 yards and a touchdown.
Senior Lyron Wilson (5-10, 170) paces Massillon's ground game. He has carried 55 times for 333 yards and two touchdowns. He also has eight receptions. J.D. Crabtree (5-11, 220), a junior, has 45 carries for 318. Six of his carries have resulted in scores.
Massillon has some major size along its offensive line. Devin Williams (6-3, 260), George Papacostas (6-4, 295) and Chase Lash (6-5, 278) all see time at tackle. The guards are Nick Bushman (6-3, 280) and Ron Humphrey (6-1, 260), while Nathanial Devers (6-5, 280) mans the center spot.
Williams, Humphrey and Papacostas also see time on the defensive front.
The Tigers defense has surrendered 698 rushing yards through four games and a paltry 121 via the pass. Big Red's defense has been just as stingy, giving up 310 on the ground and 621 through the air. Massillon allows 12 points per game and Big Red 19.
Offensively, Saccoccia's crew averages 345 yards a game (233 rushing) and 38 points. Garon Lytle has 240 yards to top Big Red's tailback by committee. Donte Brown has 219 and Robert Hayden 145.
Big Red's two sophomore quarterbacks (Dimitri Collaros and Mandela Lawrence-Burke) have combined to throw for 458 yards and six touchdowns.
Bryan Pierro tops Steubenville in receiving with eight catches. Lucas Herrington has seven.