By MARCUS BARKLEY
In a place like Steubenville, where high school football is truly at the heart of the community, it takes a special effort and even a little bit of luck to take down the Big Red in the place the fans affectionately call “Death Valley.”
With luck being a given for the Irish, Ursuline (4-3) made sure the effort came from all fronts against Steubenville (5-2) as quarterback Christopher Durkin led a balanced attack on both sides of the ball for a convincing 31-7 victory 70 miles from the friendly confines of Youngstown.
“It was amazing,” Durkin said of the tough road victory. “The past three weeks, we haven’t played as a family. But this week, we came together and the scoreboard shows it.”
Ursuline got on the board on its first drive, as kicker Vince Yurcho casually hit a 27-yard field goal to put the Irish ahead, a spot the team would never relinquish.
In the second quarter, Ursuline began to pull away, as the Irish scored 21 points to go up 24-0 at the half. Jermaine Williams put up two 3-yard rushing touchdowns, and Durkin connected with Steven Phillips on a 38-yard touchdown pass on a seemingly insurmountable third-and-goal after an onslaught of Ursuline penalties.
“Me and my coach worked on staying in the pocket as long as I could,” Durkin said. “I guess it really worked out for me on that play.”
Durkin completed 14 of 16 attempts for 131 yards, with the two incomplete passes coming on a dump throw on a near sack and a spiked ball. The Ursuline junior also led his team in rushing with 52 yards, keeping the Big Red defense off balance and often on the ground with his pounding big back style.
“It wasn’t just one kid,” Big Red coach Reno Saccoccia said of Durkin. “But he’s a very, very good player.”
Durkin wasn’t the only one getting involved in the pass game, though, as Ursuline answered a 1-yard touchdown run by Dashon Redman, who led all rushers with 80 yards, with a little bit of trickery to seal the deal for the Irish near the end of the third quarter. Durkin pitched the ball to Williams and, after stutter stepping a defender, the running back with quarterback experience launched a 45-yard heave to Tannor Berry, who was wide open.
“Don’t let anyone stay comfortable,” Ursuline coach Larry Kempe said of the trick play. “No one can ever be comfortable out there.”
On the other side of the ball, the Irish defense left Big Red quarterback Corey Stinson seeing green all night long, with constant pressure led by defensive lineman Khalid Pierce. Stinson was a mere 11-27 on the night with a number of completions coming late when the game was basically out of reach.
We really like to harass them,” Kempe said of his swarming defense. “We’re pretty quick up front and it shows.”
The win over a quality D-III opponent puts Ursuline back on the right path after a number of tough losses, but is merely another small step in a long season.
“It will feel good to get to go home and ring that victory bell,” Durkin said.