Steubenville is battered, bruised and mired in the program's first three-game losing streak since the late 1970s. Big Red, however, is not out.
A lot needs to happen in order for Reno Saccoccia's 5-4 club to reach the Ohio football playoffs for the 13th consecutive year. First on the list is a victory in Friday's regular-season finale against Renaissance Christian Academy. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at Harding Stadium.
Steubenville stands eighth in the Region 13 computer standings. Three teams (Newark Licking Valley, Philo and Indian Valley) have clinched first-round playoff games at home. Four more (Maysville, Bexley, John Glenn and Claymont) control their own destiny. Maysville is set to visit Claymont on Friday.
Bloom Carroll, No. 9 in the region (just a few points behind Big Red) finishes with a road game at Division II Teays Valley.
"There aren't very many teams on a three-game losing streak that still have hope going into the 10th week but that's the position we are in," Saccoccia said. "We still have a fighting chance and if all it takes is fight - we'll be there for round 11. Right now, we are just preparing for round 10."
Renaissance, the round 10 opponent, will come to town fresh off a 32-26 victory of Wheeling Central. The Rising Tide, coached by Muzzy Colosimo, stands at 3-4.
RCA, which is fielding a football team for the first time, lost to Canada Prep Football Academy (Big Red's Week 3 foe) in the season opener. The Tide also fell to St. Clairsville (29-27) and Cincinnati Winton Woods, Ohio's 10th ranked Division II squad.
Troy Simons (6-foot-1, 184 pounds) leads the Tide offensive attack. In Saturday's game against the Maroon Knights, he turned 16 offensive touches into 286 yards and four touchdowns. He has an offer from Stony Brook but now is drawing significant Division I interest.
Saccoccia called Simons "one of the best players I have seen in the last 10 years."
Simons is a wideout for RCA but he also lines up at quarterback in the Wildcat formation. Against St. Clairsville, he finished with 126 yards and three scores.
"In 41 years of coaching, he is one of the best ones I have seen," Colosimo said following the Wheeling Central game. "Because of the schedule we play, in our state nobody knows about him. He sets everything up for us."
Big Red will be looking to rebound from last Friday's loss to Wheeling Park. Since starting the season 4-0, Saccoccia's club has gone 1-4.
"It's not really Renaissance we're focused on right now, it is ourselves," Saccoccia said. "You talk about getting back up off the mat and continuing to fight, we're living that right now. I've never experienced the reality of continuing to keep getting back up and fighting.
"We're going into the 10th round right now and we still have a shot. Our kids have not given up and our coaches have not given up. It's amazing how they keep fighting. It makes me feel good as a coach to be part of something that is so special to these kids."
Due to injuries, sophomore Johnnie Blue has become Big Red's featured tailback. He fought his way for 111 yards and a score in the Park game. Blue leads the team in rushing with 350 yards and six scores.
Sophomore quarterbacks Dimitri Collaros and Mandela Lawrence-Burke have combined for 1,112 passing yards and 11 touchdowns. Lawrence-Burke has added 284 on the ground.
Senior Bryan Pierro and junior Lucas Herrington have 17 catches each to pace Big Red. Six of Herrington's grabs have produced touchdowns. Both have missed a game with injuries.
"These kids just keep fighting, no matter what the adversity is," Saccoccia said. "In the long run, this adversity is going to make us stronger, especially if we get a win this weekend."