By Matthew Peaslee
Don’t ask Ursuline football coach Larry Kempe how long it takes to get over a loss that’s decided on the last play.
He’s still not real sure.
The first-year leader of the Fighting Irish spent nearly three hours watching the Nov. 17 regional final against Kirtland in which Ursuline fell, 38-37. More than half of that was spent on the second half.
The most attention was spent on one play.
Ursuline went for a two-point conversion after scoring on a fourth-down chance with 8 seconds left.
“We scored,” Kempe said. “We have a little bit more momentum. We might as well take a shot.”
A shot — with much more than a win or loss in the balance. The Irish season was either going to end or continue to the state semifinals.
Quarterback Chris Durkin tried to run around a set of blockers into the end zone, but was dragged down by Kirtland defenders Ryan Loncar and Damon Washington.
Game over. Season over.
“I liked the call,” Kempe said. “We didn’t block it very well. But we had kids trying to make plays and make that play. I appreciate the effort there.
“I’d do it again. I do not regret our call. I do not regret our decision. There were a lot of conditions that seemed like they weren’t going to get any better. It was becoming very difficult, so we needed to end the game.”
Kempe wanted the ball in Durkin’s hands. The junior had already rushed for 109 yards and took a 67-yard screen pass on a trick play for a TD, earlier in the game. Running backs Tramain Thigpen and Jermaine Williams combined for 121 rushing yards — either one of them could’ve carried it in. They, too, blocked for the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Durkin. Thigpen and Williams are about half his size.
“It was a crazy finish, them going for two,” Kirtland coach Tiger LaVerde said. “We should have made the two and been up nine and it wouldn’t have even mattered, but the defense did a tremendous job of stopping that kid [Durkin]. That kid is a big, strong bull. He’s bigger than Tim Tebow, but we did a nice job on him in the second half.”
Just 27.9 miles from Aurora in Parma, St. Ignatius and Mentor played for a Division I regional title on that Saturday. A shootout eventually went to the Cardinals, 57-56, because they went for two.
Mentor QB Mitch Trubisky capped off a six-touchdown, 549-yard night with a quick strike to Brandon Fritts on the conversion attempt.
“I knew we had to go for two right there,” Mentor coach Steve Trivisonno told Maxpreps.com. “Our defense was so exhausted and [St. Ignatius RB Tim McVey] had been playing such a great game. We knew we had to just put them away.”
Canfield coach Mike Pavlansky watched the game on Sports Time Ohio.
“I really felt that Mentor would go for two at one point to try to end it and win it,” he said. “It was a one-on-one patterned play, and they hit it.”
Pavlansky knows about taking a risk with a game on the line. In Week 3 of 2011, the Cardinals beat Dover, 43-42, when Jordan Italiano punched in a successful two-point conversion try.
“The way they were playing and scoring freely in the second half, and us struggling, there was no doubt we were going for two,” Pavalansky said.
“The thing that trumps everything is if you feel you’ve got a play or a formation that you know they can’t cover or haven’t seen, then you go for the two.”
According to former coach Dick Vermeil’s two-point conversion chart created in the 1970’s, a team should go for two when trailing by one, two, five, nine, 11, 12, 16 or 19 points. Ursuline, Mentor and Canfield all were trailing by one.
It’s gutsy, no doubt. Former Nebraska coach Tom Osborne had the guts to call for a two-point conversion in the 1984 Orange Bowl — with the national championship at stake — when his undefeated and top-ranked Cornhuskers lost to Miami. A Turner Gill pass was tipped away.
Moments like these — last-second, desperation, one-shot for glory chances — only come around in sports. A triumphant call and the coach is a saint. A failed chance and the coach is loathed. Either way, it’s up for debate.
But players make the plays.
A coach doesn’t order a PGA golfer to sink a 45-foot putt to win a Ryder Cup championship like Justin Leonard did for the United States in 1999.
A coach doesn’t miss free throws to decide a basketball game from the foul line like Darius Washington Jr. did at the 2005 Conference USA basketball championship. Fouled on a missed buzzer-beating three-point attempt, Washington, a Memphis freshman and 72-percent free throw shooter made the first shot, but missed the last two, handing the game and title trophy to the Louisville Cardinals.
Jubilation or devastation. Those moments provide a wide spectrum of emotion whether it’s a regular season contest, playoff game or championship bout.
And it takes time to get over or look past it — win or lose.
“Hindsight is a wonderful thing,” Kempe said. “If you live your life in hindsight, you’ll probably end up in an institution.”
Next season, Ursuline expects to return 16 lettermen and nearly 30 players that saw considerable action in 2012.
“I received numerous phone calls and emails from my players on Sunday,” Kempe said. “They were checking on me. That explains the character of our young men. Of course they were upset, too, but we take care of each other in this program.”