By Greg Gulas
Entering the 2011 season, the Ursuline Irish had won 41 of 44 contests en route to three consecutive state titles.
After dropping a 22-17 decision Friday to the Steubenville at Stambaugh Stadium, their fourth loss in five outings, the Fighting Irish now find themselves with their backs against the wall almost needing to win out if they expect to make a return trip to the playoffs.
Jo Jo Pierro rushed for 117 yards and two touchdowns and state’s the top-ranked Division III Big Red (5-0) held the ball over 10 minutes longer than Ursuline.
Ursuline got on the board first when Chris Durkin nailed a 31-yard field goal less than four minutes into the game.
“The key for us was holding them to just a field goal after allowing a 64-yard run that took them to our 12-yard line,” said Steubenville coach Reno Saccoccia.
“We had some doubts coming up here and that just gave us the necessary fire that we needed in order to move forward.
“We had some disappointments on offense and some stupid penalties, but those penalties are the only thing that I was disappointed in tonight,” Saccoccia said.
Steubenville (5-0) took the lead for good when Pierro scored the first of his two touchdowns at 3:39 of the opening frame.
The Luke Smith placement gave Steubenville a 7-3 lead heading to the second quarter of play.
They increased their lead to 15-3 when Leshawn Luke scored at the 5:12 mark of the second stanza, and Evan Westlake then hit William Houst with the two-point conversion.
Ursuline’s Jesse Curry, who had 116 yards rushing on 18 carries, helped the Irish cut the margin to 15-10 at the half when he scored from a yard out with a little under two minutes to go before the intermission.
“We made some mistakes tonight; some forced and others unforced and it cost us,” said Ursuline coach Dan Reardon. “It’s always a hard-fought game when these two teams get together and we expected that tonight.
“I’m extremely proud of our effort, but it’s frustrating not seeing more results in the win column,” Reardon said.
Pierro’s second score of the game at the 1:26 mark after halftime, this time from a yard out, helped Steubenville increase its lead to 22-10 with 12 minutes remaining.
Through three periods of action, Ursuline (1-4) had their hands on the ball just 12:19 compared to Steubenville’s 23:41.
Durkin then led the Irish on a 10-play, 84-yard drive that culminated in Curry’s second 1-yard scoring dash with 2:15 remaining as the Irish cut the lead to 22-17.
But it was too little, too late as Ursuline had one last chance, starting on their 3 yard line with just 30 seconds remaining. Three plays got them to their own 18 yard line as time ran out.
The Irish won the statistical battle, producing 240 yards (158 coming on the ground) while Big Red had 225 total yards.