NEW PHILADELPHIA — The preliminary rounds are done — now it’s time for the main event.
No. 1 Steubenville (12-1) and No. 2 Sheridan, also 12-1, will square off today at Woody Hayes Quaker Stadium for the Division IV Region 15 championship.
Kickoff for the third all-time meeting between the programs is set for 7 p.m. The Big Red won 35-14 in the first round of the 1994 playoffs, while Sheridan went 22-18 in the second round of the 2004 postseason.
The winner will advance to next week’s Final Four to face either Kettering Archbishop Alter or Cincinnati Wyoming. Those teams will decide the Region 16 championship tonight in Monroe.
The other D IV semifinal will match the Region 13 survivor (undefeated Canton South faces Struthers) against the Region 14 champion (undefeated Sandusky Perkins will try to knock off Cleveland Glenville, the defending D IV champion).
“Sheridan is just a solid all-around football team,” Big Red coach Reno Saccocha said earlier this week. “The thing that stands out the most to me is that they are a team.”
“They run it well and pass it well. Their quarterback (Caden Sheridan) gets them going. If a big play needs to be made, he makes it. He gets excellent protection from his offensive line.
“Defensively, they do a really good job. They’re very well coached and they’re just a solid, solid football team.”
Sheridan, a 5-10, 205-pound senior, put up some impressive stats. He has completed 101 of his 178 passes for 1,795 yards and 18 touchdowns. He made four interceptions.
In addition, he is Sheridan’s second-leading rusher with 670 yards on 134 carries and 15 scores.
Justin Munnyan leads the Sheridan game with 1,027 yards on 151 attempts. He has 17 rushing touchdowns.
Sheridan’s biggest target is senior AJ Winders (5-6, 170). He has 45 receptions for 797 yards and eight touchdowns. Senior Bryson Ruff (5-10, 165) is next with 20 good catches for 462 yards and five scores.
In 13 games, the Generals, who have won five straight since a Week 9 loss at Dresden Tri-Valley, have amassed 4,769 yards of offense (2,941 on the ground and 1,828 through the air). Defensively, Sheridan has passed for 3,156 yards (1,270 rushing and 1,886 passing).
To reach the championship game, Sheridan blanked Morgan (49-28), Gallia Academy (42-0) and Columbus Bishop Hartley (34-27).
“They are a very physical football team,” – said Saccocha. “Obviously, if you’re playing right now, you’re physical. You don’t make it to a regional championship if you’re not a physical football team.”
In the win over Hartley, Sheridan was outgained 392-222, but the Generals had more than 150 punt return yards.
The Generals have good size up front, led by junior outfielder Jack Robinette (6-4, 300). He lines up next to senior Cole Davis (6-1, 250), who is also a force on defense. Senior Connor Backus, 6-2, 250) holds the other tackle spot for the Generals, who are coached by Paul Culver III. He has coached Sheridan since 2016. His father, Paul Culver Jr., is a Hall of Famer and grew up in Hopedale.
Big Red, the defending regional champion, earned the right to defend its title by handling Indian Valley 42-35 in the semifinals. The Braves jumped out to an early 13-0 lead before the Big Red rattled off 35 unanswered points to hold on for its 12th straight victory.
“We had a bad start and a bad finish, but we were great in between.” Saccoccia said of the Indian Valley game. “We got about 36 minutes of really, really good football. The first six or seven minutes and the last six or seven were not great football for us. Hopefully the middle section will carry over into this week as well.”
After his first pass was picked off, Steubenville quarterback Aidan Manning came back in a big way to finish with 305 passing yards and four touchdowns, going 18 of 27. On the season, the first-year starter has completed 160 of his 243 attempts for passing for 2,244 yards and 21 touchdowns. He was heard six times.
Isaac Hill continues to lead Steubenville’s stable of receivers with 77 catches for 1,235 yards and 10 scores. Senior Xavier Folks has 1,201 yards on 166 carries and has scored 20 times. Faulks was also a 1,000-yard rusher as a junior.
The Big Red is averaging 189 yards rushing per game and 180 by passing attack. The defense allowed 103 rushing yards and 155 through the air.
Junior safety Brody Saccoccia continues to lead the Big Red in tackles with 131. Senior Peyton Gorby is the sack leader with eight. Senior Santonio Brown and Hill each have seven.
When asked about the keys to a big red win tonight, Saccoccia said:
“We have to protect the ball, try to eliminate penalties before the rush, play smart, physical football and be great players.”
From a health perspective, Sacco said his club is in pretty good shape.
“Going into Week 14, we’re going to take our health,” he said. “We’ve been very lucky so far. Hopefully we will be at full strength for this game.”
≤ Sheridan is in the playoffs for the 24th time, but this is the first Division IV postseason appearance for the Generals. They are reportedly headed back to Division III, Region 11 in 2024.
≤ The Generals are making their first regional final appearance since 2018. They lost a slugfest to Bloom Carroll in the regional semifinals last year. Bloom won the state championship.
≤ In the 2004 game, Sheridan went 10-0. Antonio Magnone came off the Steubenville bench against a stricken Zach Collaros and rallied the Big Red. A controversial no-fumble call in the fourth quarter went Sheridan’s way and the Generals held on for the 22-18 win.