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Eyes will be on Harding Stadium Friday night

October 5, 2009
By MIKE MATHISON, Sports editor

I'm not sure how 25,000 people will fit into Harding Stadium Friday night.

I know there won't be that many, but it will sure seem like it when Massillon comes to town for a 7 p.m. kickoff against Steubenville Big Red.

I kept hearing that Big Red football coach Reno Saccoccia said yes to a game with the Tigers because he knew this would be a down year for them.

You haters. Get a clue.

In dealings with Reno, he will play pretty much anybody and that includes teams in the Ohio Valley Athletic Conference, but no one there really wants to play him.

In regular season games beginning with the 2006 season and going through this year, only Indian Creek, Beaver Local, Wheeling Park, East Liverpool, Edison and Wheeling Central have agreed to play Steubenville. That is 15 games and means 25 other games must be scheduled.

That's why Wheeling Park's OVAC title last year was a complete joke. Even though Big Red beat the Patriots 41-7, Park earned the banner because it played more OVAC teams.

Not that Big Red plays for OVAC banners, it's just the thought that it gets punished for playing a schedule that no other OVAC team would play at any time.

That Akron Buchtel team that buried Wheeling Central dropped a 42-20 decision to the Tigers in Week 1. In that game, the Griffins totaled 378 yards on offense, but turned the ball over six times, four via fumble, including two fumbles on its first three offensive plays. Half of the turnovers were inside its 30-yard line.

That Buchtel team is now 4-2 and is No. 11 in the Division III, Region 9 standings.

Massillon, from what I understand, is one phantom flag away from being 6-0 also. It lost, 26-21, to St. Ignatius on Saturday thanks to a defensive holding call leading 21-20.

But, whether the Tigers come south at 6-0 or 5-1, Death Valley should be electric from start to finish.

And, Big Red Nation, I expect you to be there from start to finish, unlike last year's state championship game.

This starts four weeks of tough games for Big Red.

Undefeated Poland comes into Harding Stadium next week, followed by Inkster, Mich. and Cardinal O'Hara, which is 4-1. Inkster was a 14-7 winner over Cleveland St. Edward's on Sept. 18 and will take on St. Ignatius next week.

In addition, Big Red has already take on and whipped one of the best teams in Pennsylvania, Woodland Hills, in the Rally in the Valley.

In case you haven't noticed, the Wolverines have not lost since and are coming off wins over defending Class AAAA state champ Bethel Park and Pittsburgh Central Catholic.

Just curious, how many other Division III teams have five Division I schools on their schedule?

That includes Cardinal Mooney, which has two.

Good luck finding a ticket.

This just in - the Madonna football team is good.

Those same haters have been doubting the Blue Dons from Game 1. Hopefully Saturday's 22-8 victory over Bridgeport for the third year in a row will get people to see a little bit further than the end of their biases and realize Madonna can play football.

This week is one of the them so-called 'trap' weeks.

The Dons are coming off beating the Bulldogs and will host Steubenville Catholic Central next week.

That means this weeks visitor to Jimmy Carey Stadium on Friday night, Clarksburg Notre-Dame, will be overlooked.

I don't think so.

Coach Bob Kramer will make sure that will not happen - as will the 11 seniors on the team.

Those guys hate to lose.

They have unfinished business and this week is another business-like work week for them.

They will not look forward to the Crusaders until business has been taken care of Friday night.

Notre Dame comes in off a 21-18 loss at home to Buffalo.

I don't know, but do you think the Fighting Irish were looking ahead a little bit to its showdown with Madonna?

Not that the state of Kansas is a hotbed for high school football, but Roger Barta is a pretty interesting guy.

The 64-year-old took a job in the Kansas oil fields as a teenager, not sure if he wanted to go to college. It rained one day and he was stranded on an oil derrick.

"I almost froze to death," he said.

Barta also looked at his co-workers.

"They were missing fingers and teeth," he said. "I didn't want to do that for the rest of my life."

Hello Fort Hays State.

Barta earned a math degree and later a master's in math education from the University of Georgia.

He is coaching the Smith Center Redmen, a Class AA-A school, for the 32nd year. The Redmen are the five-time defending state champions and have won 67 straight games, the most in the nation.

"Someone here is the best football player on the team, and someone is the worst," he has said. "It's time to forget about that. Let's respect each other. When we respect each other, we'll like each other. When we like each other, we'll love each other. That's when, together, we'll become champions.

"One more thing, guys. We don't talk about winning and losing. We talk about getting a little better every day, about being the best we can be, about being a team. And when we do that, winning and losing take care of themselves.

"None of this is really about football. What I hope we're doing is sending kids into life who know that every day means something."

A few years back one of the "stars" on the team was having a problem with Macbeth (not sure I blame him there). Anyway, Barta told the teenager that if he didn't figure Macbeth out, he was to turn in his uniform.

The coach got the team captains involved in the process and they took turns quizzing their teammate.

He stayed on the team.

Each year the team has trading cards and they are collected and traded by the Smith Center elementary school children.

The Redmen players sign a contract each year vowing not to drink, smoke or take drugs. If that oath is broken, the player's trading card is revoked and that player must visit Smith Center Elementary and tell the kids why.

Not one player has made that walk.

(Mathison, a Weirton resident, is the sports editor of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times and can be contacted at

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