They combined for two TD passes to lead the Irish to a 21-3 win over Manchester.
By BRIAN RICHESSON
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
AKRON -- Scooter Hargate set his feet on the soggy grass, looked down field for his primary receiver and made two game-changing passes for the Ursuline High football team.
Hargate, Ursuline's sophomore quarterback, threw two touchdown passes to senior Derrick Stewart on identical plays in the third quarter as the Irish opened the Division IV playoffs with a 21-3 victory over Akron Manchester on Friday at James R. France Stadium.
"We played with them except for those two big plays," Manchester coach Jim France said. "Those two big plays caused us to change our game plan."
In giving first-year head coach Dan Reardon his first playoff victory, Ursuline (7-4) played its way into next Friday's regional semifinal against Liberty at a site to be announced Sunday. The Leopards defeated Orrville, 36-19.
Hargate's two touchdown passes to Stewart went for 50 and 75 yards, respectively, to give Ursuline a 14-3 lead with 55 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
"It was good play-calling from the coaches," said Hargate, who completed 2-of-5 passes for the 125 yards and two touchdowns. "They saw a mismatch with the defense, and we took advantage of it."
That was all the Irish, seeded eighth in Region 13, needed to oust top-seeded Manchester (9-1), whose offense is based on ball control and not necessarily making up sizable deficits.
"Our team prepared very well this week," Reardon said. "A lot of people put a lot of stock in 'No. 1 seed versus No. 8 seed' and those things, but [our kids] believed they could win."
Ursuline had called the same long pass play in the first quarter, but the opportunity was squandered when Hargate faced too much Manchester pressure and couldn't attempt the throw.
"It was definitely part of our game plan," Reardon said of the deep ball. "It was just a matter of going back to it. We knew we were going to it at some point."
So the Irish waited patiently for the plays to develop. When they did, Hargate tossed high spiraling balls to Stewart along the left sideline, and the reliable senior did the rest.
"They have a lot of confidence in each other," Reardon said. "They've been practicing together for a long time, so they do have some chemistry going between them."
The teams kept it simple in the scoreless first half, relying almost exclusively on their running backs.
Manchester handed the ball often in the first half to junior fullback Greg Hooper (82 yards overall on 20 carries) and junior running back Phil Partin (81 yards on 19 carries).
"Their offense did a good job of controlling the ball in the first half," Reardon said. "There was a little bit of frustration from the standpoint that we didn't have the ball very much."
For Ursuline, senior Alex Allen carried the load in the first half. Trouble was for the Irish, most of Allen's 12 first-half attempts ended in the heart of Manchester's aggressive defense.
He totaled just 31 yards in 24 frustrating minutes, as the Panthers brought Allen down hard on several occasions, forcing him to get up slowly.
"We tell our kids to keep chopping wood, and the tree is going to fall eventually," Reardon said.
Allen finally broke free in the second half to complement his team's aerial attack. He punctuated the Irish victory by running 57 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter and finished with 156 yards on 24 carries.
"We knew they had a heck of a running back," France said. "We knew he had a cutback style, and we worked all week on that. We got after him, and we had him in positions where he couldn't get going.
"But sooner or later, a good back finds a way to break one."