Big Red faces ‘a big challenge’ | News, Sports, Jobs

OUTLOOK — Big Red’s Isaac Hill emerges after scoring a catch against Indian Valley in last week’s Regional Finals. Hill and his Big Red teammates face Cincinnati Wyoming in Columbus on Saturday with a state championship game berth at stake. – Lauren Florence

STEUBENVILLE — The Steubenville Big Red soccer team will face a major challenge Saturday in the Ohio Division IV semifinals against undefeated Cincinnati Wyoming.

Wyoming’s offense is led by senior running back CJ Hester, a top contender for the 2022 Ohio Mr. Football award. Hester is nearing 3,000 rushing yards for the season and 7,000 for his career. Defensively, the 14-0 Cowboys only allowed five touchdowns (35 points total). Wyoming is one of seven teams in state history to record 10 shutouts during a season.

Saturday’s kick-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Historic Crew Stadium in Columbus. In the other Division IV semifinal, undefeated Cleveland Glenville meets upstart Jefferson Area, who stunned Beloit West Branch in the Region 13 championship game.

“We have to prepare like every week” said Big Red coach Reno Saccoccia. “We face a challenge of coming up against an offensive team that we’re facing and then turning on the other side of the ball and coming up against a defense that’s only dropped 35 points all season.

“It’s a big challenge for us. As I will tell our players – challenges come often in life, but very rarely do you get the opportunity to take on a challenge with a group of people you like. Most of your challenges come after a while as an individual. This is a great team challenge and nothing beats being successful as a team.”

Hester, a verbal commitment from Western Michigan University, rushed 25 times for 137 yards, including a 59-yard touchdown run, as Wyoming Cincinnati beat Taft 7-0 in the Region 16 title fight.

Hester (5-11, 190) has 2,967 rushing yards and 46 touchdowns this season. Both statistics are in the respective categories for one season in the OHSAA record book.

Hester has 6,972 yards and 100 rushing touchdowns to show for his career. He is only the 10th player in Ohio history to have at least 100 career touchdowns.

“He reminds me of the guy who played for Canton Glen Oak – Brionte Dunn.” Said Saccocia. “He’s not really tall, but he’s just a class behind. He will be a big challenge for our defence.

“Everyone we’ve spoken to in this area has nothing but praise for him. But I’m sure if they took the offensive line off the field he wouldn’t go too far. Your lineage is strong and should get the recognition it deserves. The full-back also does a really good job of blocking. Hester is a great defender and plays on a really good football team.”

The Cowboys average 37.7 points per game offensively. They have rushed for 3,852 yards (275 per outing) and have 58 touchdowns on the floor. Hester has worn the pigskin 331 times.

Sophomore Joel Hancock (5-9, 175) is second on the team with 433 yards.

Junior Quaid Hauer (6-2, 215) leads the Wyoming attack. He has completed 58 of his 97 pass attempts for 811 yards and six points. Senior Jack Randman (6-0, 180) has thrown for 441 yards.

Junior DJ Gray (5-11, 190) is Wyoming’s leading receiver with 28 receptions for 335 yards and two scores. Will Svendsen has 16 grabs and Matty Mitchell has 15.

Key players along the offensive line are seniors AJ Howard (6-0, 260) and Joel Allen (6-1, 270) along with sophomore Jess Hauer (6-3, 240).

During the regular season, Wyoming recorded victories over Harrison, Cincinnati Taft, Cincinnati Aiken, Cincinnati Indian Hill, Reading, Cincinnati Deer Park, Taylor, Cincinnati Mariemont, Cincinnati Finneytown, and Cincinnati Madeira.

The Cowboys started their playoff run with a 44-0 win over Waverly. They then defeated Springfield Shawnee 35-0 and Clinton-Massie 40-7 before beating Taft for their second win of the season.

Allen leads the Wyoming defense with 63 tackles. Linebacker Terence Gragston (5-11, 180) has 58 and Quaid Hauer has 54.

Wyoming’s defense delivered the shutout against Taft, though five of Taft’s seven drives either reached or started in Cowboy territory.

“They have size and they have speed”, Saccoccia said of the Wyoming defense. “They only dropped 35 points all year. That’s just an amazing statistic.

“I’d have to go back to 1930 when Big Red went undefeated, untied and unscored to see a defense like them.”

Big Red won their 19th regional championship by defeating Indian Valley 41-7. The Braves competed in Region 15 competition and averaged 263 yards per game on the ground. Big Red, now 12-2, held Indian Valley to just 44 rushing yards.

In 14 games, Steubenville’s defense allows for 13.4 points per outing, 76 yards on the ground and 117 yards in the air. The defense has recorded 21 takeaways (eight interceptions and 13 fumble recoveries).

Sophomore defenseman Brody Saccoccia and senior linebacker Kyjhaun Hopkins both have 89 tackles to lead Big Red. Hopkins has five sacks and 14 tackles for a loss.

Senior strong safety Tylik Sims has 80 tackles while junior defense end Isaac Hill contributed five sacks and 10 TFLs.

Offensively, the Big Red averages 32.9 points per game. It has lapped for 3,220 yards on 532 carries, averaging 6.1 yards per kill. Big Red has 40 touchdowns on the ground.

Senior Gavin Bozica continues to lead the ground game with 1,088 yards for 177 carries and 11 touchdowns. Junior Savier Faulks, who passed 100 yards against Indian Valley, has 958 yards and nine points.

Senior quarterback Phaeton Hill has thrown for 2,307 yards and 24 touchdowns. He has completed 162 passes.

His favorite receiver is Isaac Hill, who now has 59 receptions for 981 yards and 14 touchdowns.

Sims has 17 catches and senior Hakim Edwards has 16. Junior Lee Anthony Sewell and senior Ivan Buggs have 14 grabs. Phaeton Hill and Buggs combined for two points in the regional championship competition.

“I expect our team to be happy after winning the regional championship, but I don’t expect them to be happy.” Said Saccocia. “There is a big difference between being happy and being content.

“It’s a long week, sometimes you can prepare too early. We want to give them just a few small crumbs all week and then feed them a big feast on Thursday. On Friday we’re going to take out what we’re not doing well and keep what we’re doing well and that will be our game plan. The most important part of a game plan is execution and I’m sure our players will execute the plan to the best of their ability.”

Wyoming is in the State Final Four for the eighth time in program history. The Cowboys won championships in 1977 and 2018. They were eliminated in the semifinals in 2019 and 2020. Overall, Wyoming has a playoff record of 36-25.

Big Red has a 9-9 mark in the state semifinals. Saccoccia led his team to state titles in 1984, 2005, 2006 and 2017.

Tickets for Saturday’s game must be purchased in advance at www.ohsaa.org/tickets.

The Division IV state championship game will be played on December 3 starting at 7:30 p.m. at the Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton.

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