ST. CLAIRSVILLE - There's something about the month of November that brings out the best in Steubenville Big Red football.
This, actually, was one of those rare seasons where just getting into the tournament was the most challenging part for Steubenville.
Needing to win and get help, Big Red earned the eighth seed in Division IV, Region 13.
Both of those came to fruition and now two weeks later, Big Red finds themselves knocking on the door of the state semifinals. Ironically, it was Maysville's last-second 20-19 victory against Claymont, which springboarded Big Red into the postseason.
It's often times funny how things work out because it was that same Maysville squad, which was Steubenville's opponent Friday night in the regional semifinal.
Big Red used a stern defensive performance and overcame a rare 10-penalty outing to fend off a valiant effort from the Panthers, 22-20, before a huge crowd at Red Devil Stadium in St. Clairsville.
"This was a great team victory, but we made it tough on ourselves," said Big Red head coach Reno Saccocia. "We thought we'd need a couple of big plays and that's something we talked about right before we left to come down here."
The message came across loud and clear.
Steubenville actually made big plays on both sides of the ball, but two long touchdown passes from sophomore Mandela Lawrence-Burke to junior Lucas Herrington proved to be the difference.
"We actually could have nickle and dimed (our way down the field) all night, but it's hard to do that when you get to a third-and-one and commit a 15-yard penalty on a chop block," Saccoccia said. "You just can't have those kinds of mistakes and our offense put us in a hole."
Maysville, which closes out its season at 8-4, actually struck first with 5:36 to play in the first quarter. After its defense forced the second Steubenville punt of the game, Maysville was in business at the Big Red 27.
Four plays later, sophomore Chase Roberts waltzed into the end zone from 11 yards out. Strong-legged junior Nate Vallee was true on the PAT.
Big Red knotted the game just 55 seconds into the second quarter when the aforementioned Lawrence-Burke and Herrington hooked up on a beautiful 55-yard pitch-and-catch. John Paul Duff's PAT knotted the game.
Maysville answered right back with its most impressive drive of the night. The Panthers marched 52 yards in 11 plays before senior C.J. Harris capped the drive with a 3-yard plunge. Another PAT from Vallee and Maysville was back on top.
Big Red seized the momentum just before halftime with a 10-play drive of their own, utilizing nearly the entire 3:38 remaining on the first-half clock.
Hard-nosed sophomore Johnnie Blue did the honors from 2 yards out.
Maysville jumped into the neutral zone, moving the ball a yard-and-a-half closer to the goal line. Saccoccia didn't hesitate in sending his offense back out.
"I am going for it every time in that situation," Saccoccia said. "If we can't get a yard-and-a-half, we don't deserve to be here."
Blue plunged in and put Steubenville on top, 15-14, at the intermission.
Lawrence-Burke was impressive both as a runner and passer on the march. He had 35 yards passing and 26 rushing.
Big Red's defense forced a quick three-and-out to begin the second half. The offense picked up right where it left off before halftime.
Lawrence-Burke, who threw for 200 yards on 13 of 18 accuracy, hooked up with Herrington again on a 32-yard scoring toss. Earlier in the march, Lawrence-Burke scrambled for 25 yards and had completions of 16 to senior Perrier Coleman and 15 to sophomore Niko Petrides.
The PAT was perfect and Steubenville owned a 22-14 upperhand.
The resilient Panthers, however, answered right back again. Going to more of an up-tempo offense, Maysville needed nine plays to march 59 yards before senior Jordan Hayes skirted into the end zone from a yard out.
Trailing by two, Maysville came out and lined up to kick the PAT. However, it fooled absolutely no one on a fake attempt and Big Red's defense deflected the pass attempt away, preserving the lead.
"We were playing the fake the entire way," Saccoccia said.
Steubenville's defense came up big twice in the fourth. It held Maysville to a field goal try of 41 yards, which had plenty of distance, but sailed wide left.
After Big Red's offense was unable to get a first down to seal the game, Maysville had one last shot. However, four consecutive passes fell incomplete, including the fourth-down try in which Herrington batted away.
Next up for Big Red is a date with Indian Valley next week in the regional championship game. The site for that game will officially be announced by the OHSAA on Sunday.
"I am happy we won tonight, but if we want to win the regional championship, we have to be passionate about what we do," Saccoccia said. "We have to be passionate all week, cut out the penalties and get some kids healthy."