STEUBENVILLE - Steubenville begins a critical three-game stretch Friday when Salesianum High School from Wilmington, Del., invades Harding Stadium.
The Homecoming game, set to start at 7 p.m., will be followed by road trips to always-tough Youngstown Ursuline and unbeaten Wheeling Park.
Salesianum will be making its second six-hour bus trip to Steubenville. The two teams met in 1988 with Big Red earning a 25-15 victory. The Sallies, ranked second in the Delaware Division I poll, stand at 4-1 after suffering a 28-20 defeat to unbeaten Brooklyn Poly Prep Country Day School. Poly Prep handed Canada Prep Football Academy, Big Red's Week 3 opponent, a 53-26 setback earlier in the season.
Salesianum, an independent Roman Catholic high school with an all-boys enrollment of 2,500, is a five-time Delaware champion, and like Big Red, captured back-to-back championships in 2005 and 2006. Coach Bill DiNardo's club went 12-2 a season ago.
"They're a big, physical football team," Steubenville coach Reno Saccoccia said of the Sallies. "They're very well-respected in the Delaware, New York and Pennsylvania areas. It's going to be a game that we need to be mentally, physically and passionately prepared to play."
Matt Sgro, a 6-foot-2, 195-pound senior, directs the Salesianum attack. He can pass when he has to but generally hands the ball to a couple of big backs.
Senior Troy Reeder, who stands 6-3 and goes 230, is the Salesianum tailback. Daulton Gregory, another senior, mans the fullback spot. Gregory is 6-0, 220 pounds.
Juniors Evander Blue and Michael Sanzone also get carries for the Sallies.
Offensively, according to Saccoccia, the Sallies might appear balanced "to the naked eye but when you get down to it, they want to shove that ball down your throat," he said.
"Their M.O. is to beat you up. They have a very good fullback and tailback and their line is big."
Some of the horses up front for Salesianum include junior tackle Scotton Hoelzer (6-4, 300), senior Benjamin Mersman (6-2, 240) and senior Jared Lewis (5-10, 250).
Michael Ziccarelli, a 6-3, 230 junior, starts at tight end. Senior Brian O'Neill (6-7, 245) is Salesianum's top receiver. Senior Tyler Marroni (6-4, 190) also mans a wideout spot.
"We're going to need every person that is anywhere near a Big Red fan out here pulling for us Friday night," Saccoccia said.
Big Red ran its record to 5-1 last Friday by downing Barberton 36-7. In that contest, Saccoccia's crew showed true offensive balance, compiling 417 yards (218 on the ground and 209 through the air). Sophomore quarterbacks Dimitri Collaros and Mandela Lawrence-Burke both threw for a score.
"We've attempted to be balanced all year, but sometimes the type of game you are in dictates what you can do," Saccoccia explained. "If you're moving the ball in the air, why run? If you are moving it on the ground, why pass? And if you are moving the ball both through the air and on the ground, why change?
"We go into games with the mindset that we are going to do what we do-the power-running game and the play-action pass. If that doesn't work, then we go to phase two. If phase two isn't working, we go to phase three. If that's not working, then we hope our defense is up to the task."
Through six games, Big Red's offense is averaging 340 yards (204 on the ground) and 35 points.
Lawrence-Burke and Collaros have combined to throw for 817 yards and nine touchdowns.
Garon Lytle has 319 yards to pace Big Red's tailback by committee. He also has scored four times. Donte Brown, who missed the Barberton, is next with 226 followed by Robert Hayden with 202. Hayden's first three carries at Barberton produced touchdowns. Johnnie Blue has added 178.
Add those four totals together and Big Red's primary runners have 925 yards on 141 carries (an average of 6.5)..
Lucas Herrington, who had two touchdown grabs against Barberton, leads Big Red's receiving unit with 13 catches. Cody Saltsman has 12 and Bryan Pierro, who also missed the game against the Magics, 11.
Defensively, the Red is allowing 231 yards a game and 20 points.
From a health standpoint after six weeks, Saccoccia said his Big Red "is getting better."
"Whoever is here, that's who we are depending on," he added. "Whoever is not, we know they will do whatever they can to help us win."
Big Red holds the fifth spot in the Region 13 computer standings. Saccoccia's crew is seventh in the Ohio AP Division IV poll.