The Fighting Irish turned up the pressure, scoring the last 33 points in a 47-28 victory.
By TOM WILLIAMS
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
AURORA — Trailing 28-14 to Cuyahoga Heights at halftime, Ursuline senior defensive back DeAndre Harris admitted that Redskins quarterback Zach D’Orazio’s skills had them quite concerned.
“We were kind of nervous but once we got into the locker room, the coaches left and let the players get together,” said Harris, a senior. “We decided we weren’t leaving with a loss so we came out fired up.”
The Irish were blazing in the second half, outscoring the Redskins 33-0 to cruise to a 47-28 victory and their third consecutive Division V Region 17 crown.
“I gave them two options — go hard or go home,” said Irish running back Allen Jones, a senior captain who rushed for 190 yards in the second half. “We just came out in the second half and played our butts off.”
After a stunning first half that saw the Redskins score on all of their first four possessions, the Irish stifled D’Orazio in the final two quarters. With the game on the line, the Redskins (12-1) rushed for just 34 yards and added just 12 yards through the air.
The Irish line pulverized the Redskins defense, rushing for 286 yards in the second half. Jones finished with 237 yards on 28 carries.
“It was a full-team effort in the second half,” Ursuline coach Dan Reardon said. “We made some adjustments defensively. Obviously. they were giving us fits in the first half.
“Fortunately, we had enough time to do what we needed to do offensively to overcome a two-score deficit,” Reardon said.
Down 14 points, the Irish (9-3) wasted little time seizing control of the game.
On their first possession of the third quarter, the Irish marched 60 yards on nine plays. Jones topped the drive with an 8-yard scoring run.
Then it was the Irish defenders’ turn as they forced the Redskins to go three-and-out for the first time.
D’Orazio’s sideline punt went out of bounds at the Cuyahoga Heights 45 and the Irish took advantage of the short field.
Seven plays later, Jones scored on a 6-yard run. The extra-point kick failed, keeping the Redskins ahead 28-27 midway through the third quarter.
“We’ve played with adversity all year long,” said Jones, referring to a 1-2 start. “We just came out focused on getting back into the game.
Our offensive line with Zach Conlan, Pete Wearsch, Dave Rossi, Greg DeMario and Joe West [took charge].”
Cuyahoga Heights’ one-point lead quickly evaporated after another three-and-out plus a poor punt.
This time, the Irish needed just two plays, with Akise Teague scoring on a 26-yard run against the tired, frustrated Redskins defenders.
The conversion pass failed, keeping the Irish lead at 33-28.
The Redskins, who outgained the Irish 304-158 in the first half, continued to struggle against the inspired Irish defense.
“We have 15 starters and Ursuline has a roster twice as big as ours,” linebacker/running back Zach Noernberg said. “We got worn down in the second half. We had nothing left in the tank.”
In the fourth quarter, Jones scored his fourth touchdown on a 40-yard run while quarterback Paul Kempe hit Dawalyn Harper with a 15-yard scoring pass to complete the rout.
“Our first half was kind of sloppy, but in the second half we picked it up,” Jones said.
Cuyahoga Heights coach Al Martin’s willingness to gamble paid big dividends in the first half.
On the Redskins’ first possession, the Irish prepared for a punt return on fourth and 3. But instead of punting, D’Orazio tossed the ball to Emerson Thacker for a 25-yard gain.
On fourth and 2, D’Orazio hit Noernberg for a 19-yard gain to the 2. Alex Torgerson scored on the next run for a 7-0 lead.
After three incomplete passes, the Redskins capitalized for their first of three 14-point leads. The key play on the 63-yard drive was D’Orazio breaking free for a 27-yard gain to the 8, with Chris Collins desperately hauling down the quarterback.
Two plays later, D’Orazio pitched the ball to Noernberg who sent a lame duck pass into the arms of Logan Matt in the end zone.
Using a no-huddle offense, the Irish responded with a 68-yard drive highlighted by Kempe’s screen pass to Teague for 24 yards. Kempe capped the drive with a 5-yard run to slice the Redskins’ advantage to 14-7.
The Redskins needed just three plays to restore their two-touchdown lead after D’Orazio broke loose for a 73-yard gain to set up Torgerson’s 5-yard touchdown.
“We had a lot of blitzes that we were running and they caught us a couple of times,” Reardon said.” We just adjusted the formations a little bit better in the second half.
“The bottom line is we played good option defense in the second half,” Reardon said.
D’Orazio rushed 20 times for 152 yards and passed for 120 yards.
Noernberg said the Redskins “knew that Ursuline was a second-half team and that’s what we talked about at halftime.
“We preached dealing with adversity, but it gets to you when you see a team almost scoring at will,” Noernberg said. “Emotionally and physically, we were worn down.”