By FRED YOUNCE
For The Intelligencer
STEUBENVILLE - With a playoff berth still possible, the Steubenville football team jumped out to a 27-0 lead on Renaissance Christian Academy on Friday night before cruising to a 27-14 victory at Harding Stadium.
The evening was not about the postseason, however, as Big Red had their focus on honoring seniors in their final home game, especially senior Matt Firm.
"The only thing on the line right now is that they ended with a win," Big Red coach Reno Saccoccia said. "The second thing is everyone got to play, and the third thing was we got to honor a great teammate in Matt Firm. Anything that happens beyond that is icing on the cake.
"Right now we're just going to eat our cake and our ice cream, hope we get some icing (today), and if we don't we'll learn to live with it."
Big Red came out of the gates strong, taking the opening kickoff and marching 63 yards in 13 plays capped by a 1-yard touchdown run by Mandella Lawrence-Burke. Big plays on the drive included a 12-yard pass from Lawrence-Burke to Bryan Pierro, a 7-yard run by Lawrence-Burke on third-and-6, and a 6-yard run by Johnnie Blue for another third-down conversion. John Paul Duff put home the extra point for a 7-0 lead with 4:57 left in the first quarter.
"My goal was to not punt," Saccoccia said. "We ended up punting after we got a lead, but we played well. You go as far your offensive line takes you offensively and as far as your defensive line takes you defensively.
"If your lines control the line of scrimmage you at least have a chance."
Devin Smith set up Big Red's next score when he stripped a Rising Tide ballcarrier and recovered the fumble to set up Steubenville with first-and-10 at the RCA 19. Duff put the points on the board with a 32-yard field goal and Big Red was up 10-0.
The ensuing kickoff had Big Red right back in business when Pierro recovered an onside kick, and then five plays later caught a Lawrence-Burke pass fo a 32-yard score. Duff's point after made the score 17-0 with 10:33 left in the second quarter.
"I'm just glad to see the seniors get the win," Saccoccia said. "They've had a tough year. They've had a tough two years. They stuck with it. Positive things will happen to them. For Bryan Pierro, he's been here since he was probably three or four years old.
"I'm glad we got to shut the lights out in Harding Stadium with the great game he had."
Pierro also had an interception.
A Duff 38-yard field goal with 1:30 left in the first half gave Big Red a 20-0 lead at intermission. The Steubenville defense was dominant in the first two quarters as the Tide ran 14 plays for minus-6 yards. They managed one first down in the opening 24 minutes thanks to a facemask penalty.
Dimitri Collaros crossed the end zone on a 4-yard run early in the fourth quarter and Ethan Brown scored Big Red's final point of the night on an extra point that made the score 27-0.
RCA got on the scoreboard on a combination of a spectacular play by Troy Simons with a little help from Big Red.
The Tide ran a fake punt and the RCA senior ran left before avoiding tacklers, cutting back across field and racing to the end zone for an 85-yard score. A flag was thrown for a block in the back, but Big Red declined it, allowing the score to count and the 2-point conversion pass made the score 27-8.
"I don't know if the penalty was there or not, but he made such a good play I didn't think it should be taken away from him, and the situation didn't warrant for us to take the penalty so I didn't take it," Saccoccia said.
Simons scored on a 4-yard run with 37 second left to make the final 27-14.
After the game the team, led by the seniors, gave Firm a football, and helped their teammate into the end zone to celebrate the Senior Night victory.
"When those kids had their celebration with him after the game they didn't think they had a chance to make the playoffs because Claymont was winning (against Maysville)," Saccoccia said. "You kind of expect kids to do that sort of thing when things are going well, but they did it thinking their season was over and wanted to honor their teammate.
"With Claymont losing we're at least in the running, but it touches me to know our kids wanted to do something like that believing their season was over."
Claymont ended up losing, 20-19, to Maysville on the game's final play, and, as of press time, Big Red was unofficially in the No. 8 spot in Ohio Division IV, Region 13.