Irish out to fix defensive issues
By Matthew Peaslee
After giving up more than 400 yards in its first game of the Division V playoffs, Ursuline knows the keys in the regional semifinals.
“Pound and pound,” Shawn Cole said.
“Keep pounding,” Cole continued. “And don’t stop.”
If a playoff game can be considered a wakeup call, the Fighting Irish may have had an early checkout last week.
In its 64-48 win over previously unbeaten Sugarcreek Garaway, Ursuline (7-4) held the Pirates to just two yards in the first quarter.
“Then we got lazy,” said Irish coach Larry Kempe. “We have to make sure we’re assignment-sound defensively.”
The 410 yards the Irish surrendered was the most since the defensive unit gave up 443 in Week 6 to Erie Cathedral Prep. The 47-7 defeat capped off a three-game losing streak in which they were outscored, 123-52.
“Those games humbled us,” said lineman Khallid Pierce. “Those games helped us bring us where we are today. If we didn’t lose those, we’d probably be walking in here a little cocky.
“Our plan for this season was to get back to state. But we lost sight of that when we were losing some games. But we got right back on track. Since then, we’ve focused more on taking it one game at a time.”
The next in line is Cuyahoga Heights, a team Ursuline beat en route to state titles in 2008 and 2009 when Kempe was the team’s defensive coordinator.
“It’s the same concept,” Kempe said of the 10-1 version of the Redskins. “We expect to see what they did back then. Offensively, they’re a balanced team, but we have to be ready for what they do on defense.
“They’re bringing guys up the middle, they’re bringing guys off the edge, so they’re very aggressive.”
Cole, a linebacker, said the Irish pass-rush will be heavy, as well.
“We have to get a good read on the quarterback and pressure him,” Cole said. “He’s got some big guys that block and a tight end who he can dish it out to short. We’ve got to bump him and make sure he doesn’t get off the run easily.”
Quarterback Jordan Martin is 116 for 176 on the year for 1,699 yards and 22 touchdowns. Tyler Gallo is the leading receiver with 41 catches for 521 yards and eight touchdowns. The junior stands just 5-foot-5 and weighs a mere 122 pounds.
The Cuyahoga Heights offense is versatile, fast and averages 27.9 points.
“No plays off,” Pierce said. “We can’t just come in every game, just because we punched them in the mouth when we get up by 20 or 30. It doesn’t matter. We’re going to play hard on every down.”
Kempe likes that attitude. Scratch that. He expects that attitude.
“The kids know how to play and they know how they have to play,” he said. “We watch enough film to point out what we’re trying to do. We’ve identified the mistakes and they know what to fix.”
The Redskins’ lone loss, a 40-7 defeat, came in Week 4 against Crestview’s Saturday opponent, Kirtland.
Ursuline beat Cuyahoga Heights, 27-7, in the first-round in 2008. That year, the Irish went 15-0.
In 2009, they beat the Redskins, 47-28, in the regional final. Ursuline finished 11-3 with its third of four state championships.