By Tom Williams
The Irish’s big-game experience was no match for Ridgewood in a 48-6 romp.
CANTON — The big game experience of the Ursuline High football team was no match for Ridgewood in its state semifinal debut.
Scoring the game’s first seven touchdowns, the Irish pulverized the Generals, 48-6, in a Division V semifinal contest at Canton Central Catholic’s Lowell Klinefelter Stadium on Friday.
The win sends coach Dan Reardon’s Irish (10-3) to their third straight state championship game. On Dec. 4 at 3 p.m., the Irish will play Coldwater (13-1) at Canton’s Fawcett Stadium.
“It’s a very big factor,” said Reardon of his team’s 14 postseason games since 2007. “Once you’ve been through something, familiarity [takes over] the second time.
“I’m so proud of our kids,” Reardon said. “We’re in very, very select company to play in a third consecutive state title game.”
Senior center David Rossi agreed.
“Experience means a lot,” Rossi said. “This was our third time being here. We’ve got [seniors] who have started since sophomore year so that really helps.”
Senior tailback Allen Jones gained 159 yards on 19 carries to (unofficially) break Terrance Graves’ career rushing record (4,163 yards).
Jones said he needed 144 yards and is not sure if the record has fallen.
“Not yet,” Jones said. “We’ll look at the numbers [today] or Monday. It’s a credit to my ‘O’ line and my receivers.”
Jones scored his 28th and 29th touchdowns of the season on runs covering 9 and 44 yards.
Quarterback Paul Kempe completed all three of his passes. Two were touchdowns to Chris Collins (35 yards) and Aaron Edwards (16 yards).
And junior running back Akise Teague rushed for 113 yards and returned a punt 74 yards for a score.
“It’s a great feeling to be back for a third straight time,” Kempe said, “We’ll enjoy it tonight but when tomorrow comes around, it will be time to go back to work because the season won’t mean anything if we don’t repeat.”
How overwhelmed were the Generals? Skylor McQuiston’s 68-yard punt in the second quarter and an early fumble recover by Evan Jones were their only big plays in the first half as the Irish raced to a 27-0 lead.
McQuiston’s long boot and favorable bounce came on the Generals’ fourth punt attempt. Two of the first three tries created major problems.
On the Generals’ first possession, the Irish forced a three-and-out. Seth Mason’s snap bounced to McQuiston who was immediately tackled by Kaevon Green for an 18-yard loss.
But two plays later, Jones recovered a fumble at the Ridgewood 13.
Things got much worse for the Generals when their top back, Jake Conrad, was knocked out with a shoulder injury while playing defense. He returned for one carry in the second quarter.
Rossi said Conrad’s injury “was a huge blow to lose your star player. I’m sure that demoralized them a lot.”
The Irish marched 55 yards on their second possession. Kempe capped the drive when he found Collins behind the Generals’ secondary.
Collins caught the pass at the Ridgewood 15 and raced untouched into the end zone for a 7-0 lead.
“Their safeties bit and Chris Collins made a great catch,” Kempe said
“It feels real good.”
Teague’s 76-yard run set up the Irish’s second score, a 4-yard touchdown run up the middle by Nico Irizarry.
Teague, who rushed four times for 113 yards, said he liked his long run better than his punt return where he escaped at least three would-be tacklers.
“It set up one of my teammates for a touchdown,” Teague said. “It feels real good to be a part of a program to take us all the way back to state. It’s sunk in, I’m ready.”
Another low snap ended the Generals’ next series with Edwards tackling McQuiston for a 12-yard loss at the Ridgewood 25.
Four plays later, Irizarry scored an almost identical touchdown for a 21-0 lead.
Following McQuiston’s long punt, Jones took over as the Irish marched 88 yards on six plays (helped by a Ridgewood pass interference penalty).
Jones had runs of 30, 9 and 13 before scoring a 9-yard touchdown for a 27-0 lead.
“To be back again in my senior year is going to feel so special,” Jones said.
The Irish limited the Generals to 24 yards passing and 144 rushing on 53 carries. Most of that rushing yardage came in the fourth quarter as the Irish substituted.
“This is a wonderful feeling,” defensive back DeAndre Harris said. “This is my dream to be in a state championship [game] in my senior year. This one feels special.”