By ED LOOMAN
For the Intelligencer
NEWARK-Steubenville coach Reno Saccoccia issued this challenge to his team at halftime Friday: Fight for 24 minutes.
The eight-seeded Big Red responded and left Randy Baughman Stadium with a 21-14 Division IV, Region 13 quarterfinal victory over top-seeded Licking Valley.
Friday's victory, Big Red's 48th all-time in the Ohio playoffs, sends Steubenville into next week's semifinals opposite Maysville.
Licking Valley held a 14-7 halftime lead after Big Red was victimized by a chain error on a critical fourth down and a bunch of penalties.
Big Red opened the third quarter by making a statement, going 85 yards on 1 plays for a touchdown. Johnnie Blue did the honors from four yards out. On the extra point try, Licking Valley was called for a substitution infraction and the Red went for two. The Panther defense stiffened, however, and stopped Robert Hayden short.
Steubenville took the lead for good with 1:03 left in the third, traveling 71 yards (the drive actually covered 88 due to a holding penalty). Mandela Lawrence-Burke went in from the one after making a nifty fake to Hayden and getting the corner on the Panther defense. Blue ran in for the two making it 21-14 Big Red.
"It was a great victory," Saccoccia said. "I think I put a little too much pressure on everyone and it hurt us all the way around. The defense played solid all night and the offense had two tremendous drives to keep us enthused. That first drive of the second half really put us back in the game."
Licking Valley had several chances late, but Steubenville's defense stiffened.
"The defense was outstanding all night," Saccoccia said. "We have 15 kids play on defense tonight and they all played great. Overall, we had 28 kids play tonight and they played tough with a passion, especially when it was called for like on fourth and one at the end.
"I told them at halftime we played the worst half of football we had played all year and we lost four games," Saccoccia said. "We were only down 14-7 and I told them you have to fight for 24 minutes if you guys want to go on."
Licking Valley scored first, going 33 yards in five plays following a partially blocked punt. The touchdown came on an 11-yard Garber to Tyler Griffith pass. The conversion kick failed.
Steubenville took the lead early in the second quarter thanks an 18-yard gallop up the gut by Hayden. The two-play, 45-yard march came following Lawrence-Burke's first interception. On the snap before the score, Lawrence-Burke hit Lucas Herrington for 27 yards.
The Panthers struck again at the 4:41 mark of the second quarter, traveling 36 yards in four plays. Griffith gave Licking Valley great field possession thanks to a 34-yard punt return. Garber's toss to Damon Hupp made it 14-7.
Steubenville threatened before the half, marching from its own 26 to the Panther 24. On fourth and six, Lawrence-Burke hit Hayden in the flat. The senior was hemmed in, cut back to the middle of the field and was tackled at the 18, apparently gaining enough for a first down. When the officials brought the chains out to measure, however, Big Red was nearly a full yard short.
Word from the field indicated the officials realized the home team's chain gang made a mistake but awarded the ball to Licking Valley anyway. Reno Saccoccia argued the call and was hit with a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty.
Big Red, now 7-4, finished the night with 409 yards of offense (287 rushing) and compiled 21 first downs. The Red was hit with 13 flags for 161 yards. Licking Valley managed just 137 yards of offense.
Blue went for 96 yards to pace the winners. Hayden added 92 and Lawrence-Burke 84. The sophomore passed for 122 with Herrington grabbing 5 for 68.