Ursuline has beat Harding the last three seasons, but face a much tougher Raider team in 2001.
By BRIAN RICHESSON
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
YOUNGSTOWN -- If Ursuline High football coach Jim Vivo had to pick part of the 2000 season that vaulted his team on a state championship path, he'd look no further than Sept. 16.
Warren Harding came to Stambaugh Stadium to open the Steel Valley Conference season. The Raiders were in control of the game, leading 12-7 with 11 minutes remaining, and threatening to score again.
Only, the Irish had other plans.
A four-play defensive stand at the goal line turned Harding away. Soon thereafter, then-senior Justin Adams burst through for a 79-yard touchdown run with 6:34 remaining to seal Ursuline's win in the fourth week.
"The thing I remember most is they had four plays inside the 5 and we held them out," Vivo said. "That might have turned the whole season. At that point, our kids knew they were pretty good."
Ursuline culminated a 14-1 record with a 49-37 victory over Coldwater in the Division IV state title game.
Here's the question: Could this season's Ursuline-Harding rematch Friday at Mollenkopf Stadium contain the same type of series that pushes momentum to one side?
"I'm not one to make a reference to what happened in the past," Harding coach Thom McDaniels said. "That was a different set of kids. The seniors are gone, and the freshmen have moved up. It's an entirely different team."
Ursuline and Harding come into the game after decisive victories in the first three weeks, making Friday's meeting at Mollenkopf Stadium a true gauge of each team's progress at this point.
Asked the differences between Ursuline of 2000 and this season, Vivo said, "Anytime you lose a Division I [college] player like [quarterback Josh] Swogger, he's hard to replace, but Darryl Clark is progressing well."
Then and now: Ursuline was hit hardest by the loss of Swogger, now at Washington State, and some outstanding linemen. However, the Irish are strong in the backfield with junior Terrence Graves and sophomore Delbert Ferguson.
Graves rushed for 263 yards and four touchdowns last week, earning Steel Valley Conference player of the week honors in Ursuline's 54-0 victory over Alliance.
Clark (flu) and Ferguson (knee) were held out of the win, but will return this week, Vivo said, to play against a Harding team that, some expect, will contend for a Division I title.
"They make you stay up all night as a staff, trying to determine how to stop them," Vivo said of the Raiders.
Vivo said he was impressed by Harding's skill, its offensive and defensive lines and its athletic secondary.
"Harding teams of years past have not been as together as this team is," Vivo said. "I saw Penn State and Miami play, and I watched two tapes of Harding. Harding is probably better than Penn State, but they're still not as good as Miami."
Clarett scares: While Vivo's comparisons were a bit exaggerated, Harding running back Maurice Clarett, recruited by Ohio State, gives the Raiders a college-type player.
"If he's running north and south, and if his shoulders are square, you're in trouble," Vivo said. "He runs over people. He's a hard runner, he's very fast and he has great vision."
Clarett has rushed for 449 yards and totaled 13 touchdowns in three games, including four scores on punt returns.
"There's a lot of talk on the streets, there's a lot of talk in the community, in the papers, the TV and the radio," Clarett said of Friday's game. "We can't let that get to us. We have to come out ready to play and execute the game plan."