Steubenville Knocks off Cleveland JFK 49-12

STEUBENVILLE – Mandela Lawrence-Burke threw for three touchdowns and ran for another as Steubenville knocked off Cleveland John F. Kennedy, 49-12, in front of the usual large crowd at Harding Stadium to open the season Thursday night.

Big Red scored the final 28 points to win its 13th consecutive opener and give Coach Reno Saccoccia a 29-3 record in season debuts. Steubenville holds a 14-0 lead in its all-time series with the Fighting Eagles.

“Our kids played as well as we expected them to,” Saccoccia said. “JFK had a couple of real good players and their kids are tough. I just think our timing and our pre-snap alignment were better.

“We played a lot of kids. I think the key to the game was the number of kids we played compared to the number they played.”

Big Red needed a shade more than two minutes to score their first touchdown. On the initial play from scrimmage, Lawrence-Burke lofted a pass that senior receiver Ma’Lik Richmond went airborne to grab between two JFK defenders. The gain of 44 yards put Big Red deep in JFK territory.

Two snaps later, Lawrence-Burke found Richmond again for 18 yards. The six-play, 70-yard drive was capped when Lawrence-Burke scored from 8 yards away, and Tevon Gary added the extra point.

After forcing the Fighting Eagles to turn the ball over on downs, Big Red went to work again, this time from their 35. Two carries by Johnnie Blue produced 19 yards, and after a JFK encroachment penalty, Lawrence-Burke found senior tight end Branden Jones wide open in the right flat. The pass and run covered 41 yards to make it 14-0 and it appeared the rout was on.

JFK, which competes in Ohio’s Division II, wasn’t ready, however, to call it a day.

The Fighting Eagles of first-year coach Christopher Hubbard took the ensuing kickoff and marched 75 yards to paydirt, with the score coming on a 20-yard pass from quarterback Ronald Salters to receiver Denzel Cummings, who out-jumped a Big Red defender in the corner of the end zone. The conversion run failed.

Saccoccia’s crew made it 21-6 via a six-play, 63-yard march. Blue did the honors from 3 yards out, and his nifty 26-yard, twisting run down the sideline highlighted the drive.

John F. Kennedy responded again, getting an 8-yard scoring toss from Salters to Derron Hookfin on its next touch. This time, a conversion pass fell incomplete.

The turning point of the first half came on JFK’s next possession, which began at the 35. On first down, Salters was thrown for an 8-yard loss by Richmond. Sophomore Jalen McGhee delivered another sack, which also cost the Eagles 8 yards, and on third down, Big Red’s defense stuffed a JFK run at the line of scrimmage.

Big Red took over at its 36 with 44 seconds left in the second quarter. Lawrence-Burke hit senior Donte Brown for 8 yards and the junior quarterback then connected with fellow junior Niko Petrides for 38. On the next snap, Lawrence-Burke tossed a 6-yard scoring strike to Petrides to put Steubenville up 28-12 at the half.

The third quarter began with Branden Jones sacking Salters in the JFK end zone for a safety. Following the free kick, Lawrence-Burke fired a 35-yard scoring strike to Richmond to put the hosts up, 37-12.

Later in the third, Big Red traveled 76 yards (57 came on the ground) for another touchdown. Junior quarterback Dimitri Collaros and junior tight end Paul Runkle hooked up for a 19-yard score.

JFK was unable to mount any real offensive threat in the second half. One drive ended thanks to an interception by sophomore Shay Wallace and another featured a sack by sophomore Charles Reeves.

Freshman DaJuan Jones scored Big Red’s final touchdown on a 40-yard sprint.

“We tried to do everything that we practiced – a little bit of no-huddle, three wides, two tights, slant defense and stack defense,” Saccoccia said. “Our plan was to run everything a couple of times to get it on film and have something to show our kids. We wanted to do those things against a little bit of speed. By doing that, we thought it would help us in the long run.”