Big Red set to host Licking Valley in Round 2 | News, Sports, Jobs


GIVING INSTRUCTIONS — Big Red head coach Reno Saccoccia gives instructions to players during a timeout during last week’s playoff opener. Steubenville takes on Licking Valley at Harding Stadium this Friday night in Round 2. – Andrew Grimm

STEUBENVILLE — It has been 10 years since Big Red and Newark Licking Valley last went toe-to-toe on the gridiron.

A decade ago, with a 6-4 regular season record, Steubenville earned the eighth seed in the Division IV, Region 13 playoffs. Licking Valley was 8-2 and landed the top regional seed. Down 14-7 at the half, Steubenville put together a strong second half and left Randy Baughman Stadium with a 21-14 victory.

The seeding roles will be reversed when the Panthers invade Harding Stadium for a Region 15 quarterfinal contest Friday night.

Reno Saccoccia’s top-seed club opened the “second season” with a 42-0 shutout of 16th-seeded Carrollton. Steubenville is now 10-1 and has won 10 straight. Licking Valley, now 8-3, entered the playoffs at the ninth seed but went on the road and clipped number eight Columbus East 40-6. The Licking Valley win ended a 12-game home winning streak for East.

The opening kick for the third meeting between the tradition rich programs is set for 7 p.m. Friday. Big Red earned a 33-7 victory in the first meeting on its way to state championship in 2005.

“Licking Valley is very well-coached and well-disciplined,” Saccoccia said. “Their players play football the way it’s meant to be played.

“Their quarterback is a very, very good high school quarterback. He gets rid of the ball quickly when he has to and he waits when he has too. He can handle the pass rush with his escapibility and he throws a good ball. He has two really good receivers and they have a really good running game. In addition, they play good team defense.”

The Licking Valley quarterback is senior Hayden Rogers (6-0, 195). In the win over East, he completed eight of 17 passes for 166 yards. Senior receiver Jacob Wheeler (6-0, 150) had three receptions for 73 yards and junior Kamden Walker (6-2, 175) also finished with three catches. Rogers and Wheeler connected for a 40-yard touchdown. The LV signal caller also found Walker for a 30-yard touchdown. In addition to his touchdown catch, Wheeler booted a 30-yard field goal.

Junior Trenton Markus (5-10, 185) is top ball carrier for the Panthers. Licking Valley turned its first four possessions into scores then held the speedy Tigers to just one first down and 11 total yards during the final 24 minutes.

“When you are preparing to play someone, you tend to look at their strengths when you first start watching film,” Saccoccia said. “Then later, you start to see where maybe they are not as good.

“Right now, I see a team that is balanced offensively and very strong defensively. The quarterback gets rid of the ball quickly and can handle the pass rush.”

Through 11 games, Licking Valley is averaging 28 points an outing while allowing 20.

The Panthers opened the season with losses to 10-1 Sheridan and 9-2 Heath. They then knocked off West Holmes, Johnstown-Monroe, Lakewood, Zanesville and Linsly before falling to unbeaten Granville. Licking Valley finished its regular season with a win over Licking Heights.

Big Red, which also owns a win over Linsly, jumped out to a 28-0 halftime lead over Carrollton.

The Steubenville ground game did the bulk of the damage, led by senior tailback Savier Faulks. He scored four times, had two runs of 50 plus yards and averaged nearly 19 yards per carry in racking up 169 of Big Red’s 334 rushing yards.

In nine games, Faulks, who ran for more than 1,400 yards as a junior, has 946 yards on 134 carries and has scored 17 touchdowns.

Senior quarterback Aydan Manning has now connected on 132 of his 200 passing attempts for 1,695 yards and 14 scores. Senior Isaac Hill is the top receiver with 64 receptions for 892 yards.

Offensively, the Big Red is averaging 34 points a game while allowing 14.

“As a team, I thought we played well in the first half against Carrollton,” Saccoccia said. “I thought the kids that played in the second half earned the time they got because of the way they practice.

“It’s the playoff now–you have to play good football. I thought we jumped off to a really good start against Carrollton but we have to protect the football. You can’t have turnovers and expect to win. The further you go, the less turnovers you can afford to have.”

The shutout was the second in a row for Steubenville.

“Our defense has played well,” Saccoccia stated. “The thing I take the most pride in as a coach is our team is playing good team football right now. If the defense is having a tough time, our offense picks it up. If the offense is struggling, the defense picks it up. Our punting game has been changing field position and our kicking game has been making opponents start deep in their own territory.

“As a team I think we are playing pretty good. We’ve had some downtime in all three phases but when you put the whole thing together, we are playing pretty good right now. To be successful Friday, we have to tackle, we have to eliminate pre-snap penalties, eliminate turnovers and tackle.”

Playoff notes:

≤Licking Valley is in the playoffs for the 23rd time. The Panthers have an overall record of 38-22. They finished second in the state in 2019, 2017 and 2001. They have been to the final four eight times.

≤Big Red is making its 36th all-time appearance and now has a playoff record of 74-31.

≤Fans are reminded that tickets for OHSAA playoff games can be purchased online at The cost is $12 for adults and $9 for students with a fee assessed to each purchase.

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