D-IV State Football Primer: Steubenville and Alter renew rivalry on state’s grandest stage


Steubenville and Kettering Alter meet for the second time in three years with a state title on the line.

There might not be a more intriguing match up at the state finals this weekend than in Division IV where Alter meets Steubenville.

Talk about opposites.

Who: Kettering Alter (12-2) vs Steubenville (14-0)
When: 3:30 p.m. Friday
Where: Canton’s Fawcett Stadium

There might not be a more intriguing match up at the state finals this weekend than in Division IV where Alter meets Steubenville.

Talk about opposites.

Alter is a private school in suburban Dayton and gets most of its kids from the affluent southwest Ohio communities of Centerville, Kettering, Bellbrook and Springboro. The cost of tuition runs between $5,500-$7,400 per year.

Steubenville, a public school, sits on the banks of the Ohio River overlooking West Virginia. A town built on the now struggling Steel industry, the average per capita income in Steubenville is $17,830.

Did we mention these two teams already have a history as well?


Steubenville is 2-0 against Alter in the state playoffs. In 1987, Big Red beat the Knights 28-10 in a D-II state semifinal at Ohio Stadium. Two years ago Steubenville captured its third state title with a 34-33 win over Alter in the D-III final at Massillon.

Round III is Friday.

“Life is full of ironies and this is one,” Alter head coach Ed Domsitz said. “When we dropped to D-IV we noticed that Steubenville dropped as well, so there was always that distinct possibility that we could face them at some point. They’ve got a great program and it doesn’t appear that their program has suffered at all. It’s still the same quality program we saw in 1987 and again in 2006.”

During that 2006 meeting, Steubenville exploded for a 34-13 lead in the first half only to see Alter storm back with 20 unanswered points. Two botched extra-points by the Knights made a difference.

“Holding on at the end,” Steubenville head coach Reno Saccoccia said when asked what he remembered about the last meeting. “And my stupidity before the half. We threw an interception before the half and I probably should have just let the clock run out. They ran it back inside the five and scored. That was pretty stupid.”

Each team has only one starter that played in the previous championship game: Alter center Evan Neff and Steubenville linebacker Branko Busick.


Both Alter and Steubenville are steeped in football lore.

The Big Red is the third winningest program in Ohio history. Only Massillon Washington and Canton McKinley can claim more victories than Steubenville, which surpassed 700 with a Week 10 victory over Tonawanda (N.Y.) Cardinal O’Hara. The Big Red has been playing football for 109 years and has competed in 1,027 games. They’ve also won 60 straight regular season games, which equates to six straight 10-0 seasons.

Saccoccia, who in his 26th season, has coached (317) and won (271) more games than any coach in Big Red history.

Alter has been to the postseason 14 times and has appeared in two state finals. The Knights have made the state semifinals five times. Famous alumni include OL Nick Mangold (Ohio State, New York Jets), LB Jerry Rudzinski (Ohio State) and WR Jeff Graham (Ohio State, Chicago Bears).

“The greatest difficulty we have at Alter – and Steubenville probably has the same thing with its expectations – there’s always a big target because we’ve been successful,” Domsitz said. “The kids have learned to live with the pressure of expectation and we’ve told the kids the importance of tradition here at Alter. The tradition here is not a burden. It’s a source of strength, motivation and pride. People in general just expect that we’re going to go out and win every week.”


For years Alter has been defined by a brutish running game that works out of the wishbone. Things have changed recently. Despite still being a dominant run team, the Knights now also have the ability to throw the ball – and throw it well – thanks to senior quarterback Austin Boucher (6-2, 203).

A Toledo recruit, Boucher is 28-1 as a starter. His lone loss came to Coldwater in last year’s regional semifinals.

“We feel like he’s a very much improved quarterback,” Saccoccia said. “He throws a solid, hard football and he’s very accurate. I think he likes throwing the ball but if it came down to it I think he’d rather be a runner.”

Running is Alter’s bread and butter.

Senior tailback Chris Borland (6-0, 217) gets most of the attention in Alter’s bone formation, but junior tailback Cody Taulbee (6-0, 215) and senior fullback Justin Hall (5-11, 220) get their share of touches. Borland is headed to Wisconsin.

Senior receiver Danny Jasper is a viable threat through the air and Neff – who has started a program record 42 straight games – anchors a sizeable offensive line that averages 6-4 and 236 pounds.

Alter averages 44 points per game.

“As far as we’re concerned, Alter is a good, hard-nosed football team,” Saccoccia said. “They’ve changed their offense a little bit this year compared to the last time we played them but not enough for us to have any concerns other than the concern we have for stopping their basic plays. A lot of people talk about their tailbacks, but we feel their offense is predicated around their fullback and quarterback. Most plays come off of those two.”

“It’s not a matter so much of trying to exploit something, it’s a matter of being able to establish what we do well,” Domsitz said. “Offensively we’ve always been a team that likes to run the football. That doesn’t surprise anyone. We’ve become a little more efficient in the gun offense with Boucher and there are some things we’d like to do there to keep a good mix on the field.”

Steubenville counters with a defense that has steadily gotten stronger throughout the year.

Despite returning just three starters from last year’s unit, the Big Red have excelled at limiting the opposition. Steubenville runs a base 4-3.

Busick (5-10, 190), a West Virginia recruit, leads the Big Red with 109 tackles from his MLB spot. Sophomore OLB Shaq Petteway (6-0, 170) is second on the team with 97 tackles. Each Busick and Petteway have 17 tackles-for-loss.

“We may have one division one player on our defense but we have 15 high school football players that like to play defense,” Saccoccia said. “They like to tackle. They like to accept responsibility. That’s what it takes to play high school football. It doesn’t take a great amount of ability to give every ounce of energy you have. That’s what we like to build on.”

Said Domsitz: “I really like Busick. He’s an amazing football player. He reminds me a lot of (Adam) Homan from Coldwater. Their defense looks like it might be quicker than it was in 2006.”


Alter’s defense has played exceptionally well this season considering the Knights lost their lone returning starter – Collin Boucher – to a season-ending knee injury in the season opener. Eleven new starters has not spelled trouble for Alter – unlike the competition.

The Knights have held nine opponents to single-digits or less.

“Defensively they are very sound,” Saccoccia said. “They used to be strictly man-to-man but now they run some zone. They are gap-sound and well-coached.”

Big Red rolls behind junior quarterback Dwight Macon (5-11, 180). Regarded as one of the state’s top college prospects in the Class of 2010 according to Ohio High Magazine, Macon has completed 142-of-201 passes for 2,228 yards, 27 TDs and three interceptions. He’s also rushed for 770 yards and 12 TDs on 145 carries. Macon turned 16 in October.

“Defensively you have to contain their quarterback and that’s a major challenge because he’s all over the place,” Domsitz said. “That kind of quarterback can give you nightmares.”

Complimenting Macon is junior running back Demetrius Brandon (5-8, 165) who leads Steubenville with 1,360 yards and 15 TDs on 190 carries. Domsitz said Brandon is “as fast and talented as anything we’ve seen.”

Macon’s favorite target is junior tight end Sage Cutri who has 24 catches for 410 yards and nine TDs.


“Some of the best players who have ever walked the face of the earth have played in Fawcett Stadium. Just to be able to take ours kids there and to be able to play and coach there is an honor in itself. Doing it in the finals is icing on the cake.” – Saccoccia

“Football has its place in this town. No matter what walk of life you’re in I think the people here enjoy the game of football. But when they go home they still have to take the garbage out. Even I have to do that. But I don’t have to bring the empty cans back up. My neighbor does that as long as we win. If we lose he leaves them out on the driveway.” – Saccoccia

“We started the season starting seven sophomores. I’ve never mentioned that until now because I felt that if we mentioned kids being young they’d think young and play young. If I had to talk about this year I’d have to talk about our rate of improvement.” – Saccoccia

“We’d never beaten (Youngstown Mooney) before. It was a good win to get (in the regional final). Anytime you beat someone for first time it’s gratifying, but if you play someone enough times you’re bound to beat them once. You’re bound to find that needle in the haystack one time. We won’t be able to tell until the next time we play them if we’ve really caught up with them.” – Saccoccia

“We started the season with the goals of making the playoffs, winning our home games and winning the region. That’s our goal every year. We were able to improve every week on the little things and we think the little things are what make the big things happen.” – Saccoccia

“We felt about mid-season that we had a pretty special group. We’re one of those schools that’s not afraid to talk about the playoffs. We set the state title as a goal and that’s really become an expectation here.” – Domsitz


Alter’s athletic department reeks of success and state hardware. The Knights own state titles in boys basketball, girls basketball, volleyball, boys soccer and girls cross country. It’s time they add a football title. Of Alter’s 22 starters, 19 were either first or second team all Greater Catholic League North Division. The Knights have been close before. This time they get over the hump. Alter beats Big Red 35-20.

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