A late stop gave Cardinal Mooney a 27-22 victory over its rival.
By JOE SCALZO
Vindicator sports staff
YOUNGSTOWN — After 461‚Ñ2 minutes of an intense — and sometimes bizarre — rivalry game that featured huge momentum swings, a puzzling touchdown (that wasn’t) and a very slippery football, the Ursuline High football team was left with one more chance to make history.
Trailing Mooney 27-22 with 1:31 left on a rainy Friday night at Stambaugh Stadium, the Irish faced a fourth-and-6 at the Cardinals’ 7. Ursuline QB Paul Kempe — who had spent all but one play in the shotgun and who had been attacking the edges on bootlegs — lined up under center in the I-formation.
A few feet away, Mooney LB Mark Brandenstein had a hunch the play was coming his way.
“We snuck up a little bit,” he said. “We got it in our heads that maybe they were going to run it up the middle.”
Kempe handed off to senior running back Allen Jones, who headed off-tackle. Brandenstein, along with defensive lineman Zach Larson and linebacker Chuck Gruber, stopped Jones cold, keeping the Cardinals unbeaten in one of the best Mooney-Ursuline games in recent years.
“Like everyone said, in this game, records don’t matter,” said Brandenstein, whose team likely clinched a first-round home playoff game. “We dug down and we played with our hearts.
“They’re a tough football team. This is the toughest game I’ve ever played in.”
Still, that wasn’t the game’s biggest play. That one came an hour earlier.
Late in the first quarter, with Ursuline winning 6-0, Mooney punter A.J. Fox bobbled a snap near his own 1-yard-line. Then, with the Irish rush closing in, tried to throw the ball. The ball hit the ground, then rolled into the end zone, where Ursuline’s Trevor Smith dove on it for an apparent touchdown. Officials called intentional grounding, but the penalty was declined and Ursuline was awarded the score.
After the Irish completed a conversion pass to make it 14-0, they lined up for the kickoff. But officials stopped play, huddled and took the touchdown off the board, saying Fox had been called for intentional grounding in the end zone, which is a spot foul. The Irish were awarded a safety instead.
“I’ve never had a situation like that,” said Ursuline coach Dan Reardon.
Even more puzzling, it appeared Fox threw the pass outside the end zone, meaning Ursuline should have had a first and goal at the Mooney 1. It was a huge break for the Cardinals, who scored 20 unanswered points to take a 20-8 lead at halftime.
But, afterward, Reardon blamed another first-half problem for the loss.
“Bottom line, turnovers ended up being the difference,” said Reardon. “We had three turnovers in the first half.
“If we take care of the football, it’s probably a different outcome.”
Mooney senior Braylon Heard rushed 22 times for 149 yards and two TDs for the Cardinals (9-0), who can wrap up their third undefeated regular season in four years with a win at Columbus Watterson next week.
Alex Zordich added 30 yards rushing and a TD and completed two passes to Brandenstein (who also recovered a fumble) for the Cardinals, who are ranked first in the Division III Associated Press poll and first in the Region 9 computer ratings.
“Rivalries are a game of momentum,” said Mooney coach P.J. Fecko. “We were fortunate, every time they chipped away, we were able to rip it back and come up with scores needed when we needed them.”
Jones finished with 117 yards on 26 carries with a touchdown for Ursuline (5-3), which was fifth in the Division V, Region 17 ratings. The Irish probably need to win at Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary next week to make the playoffs.
“We have to take care of business next week,” Reardon said.
Akise Teague added 87 yards on nine carries, while Kempe rushed for 29 yards and a TD and threw for 77 yards, including a 65-yard TD pass to Chris Collins with 7:35 left in the fourth quarter for the game’s final points.
Mooney now leads the series between the teams 36-16-3 and has won seven of the last eight.
“Obviously, our kids feel bad,” said Reardon, whose team has played in two straight Div. V championship games.
“I’m proud of how they played. That being said, we didn’t come here for a moral victory. We came here to win and we feel very badly that we didn’t accomplish that goal.”