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Reeling Irish pay a visit to Harding

October 4, 2012
By ED LOOMAN - Sports correspondent , The Herald-Star

STEUBENVILLE - Records can indeed be deceiving.

Case in point: the 3-3 record Youngstown Ursuline will bring with it to Harding Stadium for Friday's 7 p.m. start.

The Irish, under first year coach Larry Kempe, started the season with victories over Youngstown East, Cleveland East Tech and Mentor Lake Catholic. Since then, Ursuline has fallen to Division II Zanesville (6-0), Division I Lakewood St. Edward (6-0) and Pennsylvania power Erie Cathedral Prep (5-0).

Big Red's Reno Saccoccia indicated the first of many challenges Ursuline poses is "the toughness of the schedule they play."

"They're 3-3, but they have lost to three unbeaten teams," he said. "So, they haven't been playing chopped liver."

Friday's battle will be the ninth overall meeting between the schools (the first two were regional finals). Big Red, a 22-7 winner in 2011, leads the series 6-2.

The other key challenge Ursuline presents comes on the offensive side of the football.

"They run multiple sets, but they really want to run the ball at you," Saccoccia noted. "They have two good tailbacks, a real good fullback and a solid tight end that they can spread out or play tight."

The Irish running backs are Jermaine Williams (5-10, 178) and Kimauni Johnson (509, 169). Tramain Thigpen (5-9, 180) mans the fullback spot. In the loss to Cathedral Prep, he bulled his way to 90 yards on just eight carries.

Chris Durkin (6-3, 213) directs the Ursuline attack and Saccoccia referred to him as "another offensive threat."

"We have to be concerned when he is alone in the backfield, because he is a good runner in his own right," the Big Red boss said.

The Ursuline defense, which has surrendered 123 points during the losing streak, "is not real big except for their front line and those guys are big and stout."

"They are fast in every position," Saccoccia noted. "They play a good, quick defensive game. Quickness and speed always cause problems."

To combat Ursuline's defensive quickness and speed, Saccoccia figures his offense will need to improve in several areas.

"Our line needs to do a better job of maintain blocks until the echo of the whistle," he pointed out. "Plus, our backs need to use their eyes when they run and finish with their shoulders and knees."

Offensively, Big Red showed real balance in the 33-6 win over Pittsburgh Westinghouse. Of the 415 yards, 209 came on the ground and 206 through the air.

Teshawn Luke collected 80 yards on eight just trips and a score. Dashon Redman worked hard inside for 46 stripes on seven attempts and a six-pointer.

Meanwhile, Corey Stinson had an outstanding game. He hit on 11 of 21 attempts for 206 yards and a pair of touchdowns. For the year, Stinson has completed 58 percent of his passes for 859 stripes (his yardage total is third best in the area).

Matt Petrella recorded his best night of the season, grabbing six Stinson aerials for 102 yards and a score. Petrella paces Big Red in receiving with 20 (also third best in the area). Evan Westlake has 13 grabs and Cody Saltsman 10.

Defensively against Ursuline, Big Red will need "an aggressive takeoff type of game from our line."

"Our linebackers will need to do everything downhill," Saccoccia said. "And our secondary as always can't give up the big play."

The Big Red defense allows an average of 43 rushing yards per game and 145 via the pass. Opponents are averaging 14.3 points.

When it comes to the records (Big Red is 5-1) angle of Friday's contest, Saccoccia admits he is "not really worried."

"I'm more worried about our kids being prepared by their coaches," he said. "We need to put them in the best position possible to be successful. That's a challenge as a coach. You have to take what your plays do best and emphasize that not only as part of the individual game plan but also as part of the team game plan.

"We want to stress what we do best and stay away from what we don't very well."