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Saccoccia wins 400th game as Big Red cruises by University School

STEUBENVILLE –What a night it was inside Harding Stadium Friday.

For starters, Steubenville’s offense put two scores on the board in the opening quarter while its defense delivered five interceptions and four quarterback sacks in besting University School 34-20.

The final result gave Big Red’s Reno Saccoccia his 400th coaching win. He is one of just two coaches in Ohio high school football history to hit that milestone. He needs two more victories to become the Buckeye State’s all-time winningest coach. Following the game, a video tribute to the Hall of Fame coach was played on the stadium scoreboard.

With the victory over the Division II Preppers, Big Red locked up an opening round home game in next week’s Division III, Region 9 playoffs. Its opponent will be officially announced on Sunday. Saccoccia’s crew was seventh in this week’s standings but could finish higher.

Finally, the Big Red wrapped up the regular season with an 8-2 mark, giving the program its 23rd straight winning campaign.

“It takes a village,” Saccoccia said when discussing the coaching accomplishment. “It takes players and we have had great players. It takes great kids and great parents and we’ve had that. It takes a community that backs everything we are doing.

“It takes support from the administration and that support has been given especially in tough times. It takes buy in from the families of assistant coaches because assistant coaches give so much time.

“I’m thankful for my family and my close friends because they allow me to do what I love doing. If one of those ingredients is missing — it’s like the garlic missing from the Sunday sauce, it’s not going to work.”

Big Red took the opening kick and moved 80 yards for the game’s initial score. Spencer Ostovich did the honors with a 10-yard burst up the gut. The conversion attempt failed.

The next score came on a 30-yard pass from Phaeton Hill to Tylik Sims. This time, Josh Roberts nailed his kick. Big Red found the end zone one snap after Inky Jones came through with the first of his two interceptions.

Ben Malbasa’s Preppers pulled within a touchdown thanks to a 65-yard drive, capped by a 13-yard pass from Joey Zigman to Brian Kellon. Evan Weybrecht’s kick made it 13-7.

Steubenville’s third touchdown came with 1:56 left in the half. Ostovich again found the end zone on a 10-yard run. The junior tailback also ran for the two-point conversion. Big Red started its possession at the University 16 thanks to a nifty 37-yard punt return by Niko Suriano.

Hakim Edwards, who like Jones finished the game with two picks, put his team in position to score again seconds later when he intercepted a Zigman aerial. Starting this time at the Preppers’ 31, Saccoccia’s club needed three snaps to score. Isaac Hill, seeing his first playing time since suffering an injury during Week 2, hauled in a Phaeton Hill and scooted 25 yards. The conversion kick missed its mark and Big Red led 27-7 at the break.

Big Red’s initial drive of the second half produced its last touchdown. Kyjhaun Hopkins went 3 yards to end a 67-yard march. Hayden Hicks tacked on the extra point.

University’s final scores came in the fourth quarter, long after Saccoccia started clearing his bench. Zigman found Kellon for touchdowns of 12 and 21 yards.

“We started off slow,” Saccoccia said.

“If we start off slow from now on, it’s going to be a short season. We need to start quicker and we need to make it last longer.

“I’m happy with the whole season. I’m happy with the effort the kids have given and I’m happy with the cooperation we get from the parents. I’m happy with everything about football but you can’t be satisfied.

“We have to keep grinding. That is the key in any kind of success, not just football. You have to grind. Very few people are born with gold spoons in their mouths. The rest of the people are earning that spoon.”

Phaeton Hill finished the night with 96 yards passing. Elijah Mullins led Big Red’s ground game with 76 yards on 15 carries. Ostovich added 61 on 11 trips.

Josh Schoonover also had an interception for the winners. It was his second of the season.

University’s Zigman threw for 118 yards. Kellon grabbed eight passes for 83 yards and his three scores. The Preppers, who finished 1-7, managed just 46 yards on the ground.

“Let’s face it, you make your breaks and give Big Red credit — they made their breaks,” Malbasa said.

“They did a great job of changing personnel up this week. They had some personnel tendencies we felt pretty good about but they broke those tendencies. That’s what coach (Saccoccia) does and a reason why he’s one of the best coached around. You don’t win 400 games by accident. He has great coordinators and they do a great job for him.

“It’s been a tough year, especially for our seniors. We had a really rough year last season with COVID and our seniors had to reset our program’s values. One of the things I learned from coach (Saccoccia) is what’s the effort level to the end of the whistle? I thought our team showed that effort to the end of the whistle tonight. I was very proud of them. We have a lot to look forward to.”

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