Ursuline didn’t allow a first down, held Kirtland to 23 total yards, recovered two fumbles and was solid on offense in the first half of a regional final Saturday night.
The Fighting Irish’s dominance didn’t last, though, and they dropped the Division V, Region 21 final to the Hornets, 38-37 at Aurora Veterans Field.
“That’s our fault there,” Ursuline head coach Larry Kempe said. “We did it to ourselves.”
The luck didn’t run out. The Hornets just ran it up.
Adam Hess ran for 99 yards on 18 carries after getting it just twice in the first half. He scored on Kirtland’s first two possessions of the third quarter as it quickly made the score 24-16 after trailing 24-0 at halftime.
“We all got it together and figured out what we needed to do,” Hess said. “The offensive line was unbelievable.”
The big deficit didn’t faze Kirtland head coach Tiger LaVerde. His message at halftime was simple. But maybe hard to believe at the time.
“I said I got three two-point conversions that are going to work,’ LaVerde said. “We’re going to tie this thing up. “We’re going to go for two and we’re going to make them.”
The Hornets (13-0), who have won 28 straight games, converted four two-point conversions in the second half and earned their first lead, 32-31, at the 8:45 mark of the fourth quarter.
“We knew that they were going to come out and try some stuff early and we fell asleep in the secondary,” Kempe said.
But Kirtland threw just three times in the second half. One was a 45-yard pass from Scott Eilerman to Sam Kukura.
The game was won on the ground, though, with skilled blocking. Eilerman added the go-ahead touchdown with a 39-yard score and Hess pounded in a 2-yard run to go up, 38-31, with 4:59 left in the fourth.
The senior QB had 134 rushing yards on just six carries.
“[Eilerman] did a great job faking the ball and taking it,” LaVerde said.
So, with just under five minutes left, and 66 yards to go, Ursuline drove for the comeback.
Ten plays got the ball to the Kirtland 21-yard line and on third down, Irish QB Chris Durkin threw to Shannon Hightower as he fell out of the end zone for an incomplete pass. A pass interference call on the Hornets gave Ursuline the ball on the 10-yard line with four more chances. On an eventual fourth-and-8, Durkin hit Hightower again, for a touchdown this time, and the Irish trailed, 38-37.
With Tramain Thigpen and Jermaine Williams flanked to his left and right, Durkin tried to run in the two-point conversion attempt but was dragged down on the 1.
“No doubt,” Kempe said of the decision. “I’d do it again.”
The Irish surrendered 355 yards in the second half and were forced to punt four times.
“We probably became a little bit undisciplined in our assignments, but we did not get tired,” Kempe said. “In the first half we stopped them, in the second half we didn’t.”
Thigpen opened the scoring early in the first quarter with a 13-yard TD run. He finished with 61 yards on 19 carries. Vince Yurcho added a 41-yard field goal and Tannor Berry received a reverse run play before going 6 yards for a score. Durkin’s 49-yard pass to Hightower just before halftime built Ursuline’s 24-0 lead.
Thigpen and freshman Marcus Mosley recovered first-half fumbles.
“We had the momentum,” Kempe said. “Once momentum shifted — we lost it.”
Durkin led the Irish on the ground with 109 yards and threw for 74, completing 6 of 14 passes. He was on the receiving end of a 67-yard TD in the third when Williams hit him with a screen pass before tip-toeing down the sideline for a score.
Ursuline was flagged 15 times for 156 yards. Kirtland was penalized three times for 30 yards.
“Strange,” Kempe said.
In his first year as Ursuline head coach, Kempe went 8-5 and brought the Irish back to the playoffs after a rare one-year hiatus.