STEUBENVILLE - For Youngstown Ursuline's Larry Kempe, the start was a dream come true. For Reno Saccoccia, it was a nightmare.
The Irish offense, powered by junior quarterback Christopher Durkin, turned all four of its first half possessions into points. Meanwhile, the aggressive Ursuline defense, which as Saccoccia noted is "fast at every position," bottled up the Big Red attack and made the hosts pay for poor field position.
The result: Ursuline jumped out to early lead and left Harding Stadium with a 31-7 victory Friday.
FOR A LOSS — Steubenville’s Michael Jett tackles Ursuline’s Christopher Durkin while teammates, from left, Manard Reed, Torrie Carter and Jauwan Williams close in during Friday’s 31-7 win by the Irish at Harding Stadium. Also in on the play is Ursuline’s Austin Kennedy.
"I've been waiting for our guys to do that," Kempe said of the fast start. "We did a little exercise earlier this week that was all about trust. I told them to trust their teammates. The message was if they do, good things are going to happen. They trusted their teammates tonight."
After Big Red mishandled the opening kickoff, Saccoccia's club was forced to start from its own nine. Three plays later, it had to punt from the six. Ursuline got the football at the Big Red 26 and needed just four snaps before Vince Yurcho booted a 27-yard field goal.
Big Red's next drive also started at the nine. This one lasted six plays before Luke Smith was called upon to punt. The Irish began with decent field position again and reached the end zone thanks to a three-yard dash by Jermaine Williams. Yurcho's extra point made it 10-0.
Ursuline 31, Big Red 7
Ursuline 3 21 7 0 - 31
Big Red 0 0 7 0 - 7
U: Yurcho 27 yard field goal
U: Williams 3 run (Yurcho kick)
U: Allen 38 pass from Durkin (Yurcho kick)
U: Williams 3 run (Yurcho kick)
B: Redman 1 run (Smith kick)
U: Berry 45 pass from Williams (Yurcho kick)
RUSHING: Ursuline 30-97-2 (Durkin 14-77; Williams 9-23-1; Johnson 6-14; Team 1-(-17)); Big Red 31-98-1 (Stinson 7-(-7); Luke 2-5; Jett 3-12; Redman 15-68-1; D. Brown 4-20).
PASSING: Ursuline 16-18-178-2-0 (Durkin 15-17-133-1; Williams 1-1-45-1); Big Red 11-28-77-0-2 (Stinson 11-27-77-0-2; Petrella 0-1).
RECEIVING: Ursuline (Allen 1-38-1; Phillips 4-24; Cole 2-23; Berry 6-67-1; Williams 2-24; Durkin 1-(-1)); Big Red (Petrella 4-29; Robinson 1-7; Lawson 3-11; McClurg 1-13; Jett 1-6; Pierro 1-11).
FIRST DOWNS: Ursuline 13; Big Red 13.
PENALTIES-YARDS: Ursuline 14-115; Big Red 12-101.
PUNTS: Ursuline 2-33; Big Red 3-39.
FUMBLES-LOST: Ursuline 1-1; Big Red 0-0.
Three of Steubenville's four first half possessions began inside its own 10.
"We started with bad field position three times," Saccoccia said. "It's pretty hard to generate anything when you start that deep in your own territory. Bad field position for your offense results in the defense having bad field position. That combination leads to serious problems. I was very disappointed with our field position offensively to start the game."
Durkin, who accounted for 176 yards of total first half offense, broke Big Red's back several times with huge third down conversions. One, coming on third and goal at the 38, resulted in a Durkin to Sean Allen touchdown pass, increasing Ursuline's lead to 17-0.
That score capped one of the strangest drives of the 2012 season. Ursuline started at its own 45 after stopping Big Red on a fourth down run.
Facing a fourth and five at midfield, Kempe decided to gamble. Durkin's pass fell incomplete but Big Red was hit with two penalties (holding and a personal foul) for 25 yards. Durkin found Ben Phillips for nine stripes then gained 12 on his own, making it first and goal at the four.
Thanks to several Irish miscues, the ball was sitting on the 38 by the time third down rolled around. Durkin avoided the Big Red rush and found Allen for the score.
Ursuline, now 4-3, would score once more before the half. Damon Green's interception of a Corey Stinson pass gave his team a fresh set of downs at the Big Red 27. Williams plowed over again from three yards away.
Saccoccia's club, now 5-2, got a huge break to start the third quarter. Ursuline fumbled the kick and Bryan Pierro recovered at the 25. It took eight plays, but hard-running Dashon Redman bulled over from a yard out for what proved to be Big Red's only score. Smith added the extra point.
Big Red went with the short kick but the Ursuline receiver was ready and called for a fair catch. The hosts interfered, costing them another 15-yard penalty. In two plays, the Irish made them pay. Durkin ran for three then Williams found a wide open Tannor Berry on a halfback pass. The 45-yard pass and run represented the final score of the evening.
"We suspended two starters this past Saturday because I didn't like the way they were acting," Kempe said. "I told our guys we needed to play four quarters hard as a team. Tonight, we didn't play great but we played a solid game against a good team."
The Irish finished with 275 yards of offense. Durkin was 15 of 17 for 133 and a score. He attempted just two passes in the second half. He also paced Ursuline's ground game, going for 77 on 14 trips. After Williams' touchdown toss, Kempe's gridders focused on running the football, running the clock and controlling the line of scrimmage.
Big Red managed 175 (98 on the ground and 77 through the air) yards against the Ursuline defense that was excellent against the run and superb against the pass. Redman earned 68 yards on 15 carries.
Between them, the teams drew 26 flags for 216 yards.
"I talked to our players after the game," Saccoccia noted. "They know where I stand and I know where they stand. We're going to see what they're made of during the final three weeks. We'll suffer tonight, make sure it hurts bad then get ready to go again.
"Our seniors have to realize they only have 21 days left if we don't go any further than week 10. Hopefully, they'll make it a good 21 days and we'll have more after that."
Big Red's attempt to have more days continues next week when it travels to Morgantown. The Mohigans are 5-1 after holding off Wheeling Park 42-39 Friday.