Ursuline overcomes 10-point deficit to beat Mooney for the third straight year
By Joe Scalzo
Don’t let the final score fool you. This was no pushover, even if Ursuline’s 44-24 victory was due in large part to the Irish offensive line’s ability to push Mooney over, down and around.
Even after the Irish had rebounded from a 10-0 deficit to take a 29-17 lead, there was a point when the outcome was in doubt.
Two plays after Mooney quarterback Jon Saadey had hit Marcus McWilson for a 45-yard gain, the Cardinals faced a second-and-5 at the Ursuline 26. Saadey rolled right to pass and Irish defensive back Tramain Thigpen released into the flat, eyeing Saadey to see if he would run or pass.
“I saw him pull his arm back like he was about to pass and I slid out there and caught it,” said Thigpen, who returned it 70 yards before getting caught from behind by Mark Handel. “I wish I could have scored but I was a little winded.”
No matter. On the next play, Thigpen scored from 3 yards out to end all doubt. And after Mooney answered with a quick touchdown? It was Thigpen catching the onside kick and returning it 27 yards to set up the final Irish touchdown.
“Our players and coaches talk about finishing games and that’s something we haven’t really done all season,” said Thigpen, whose school has won three straight over Mooney and four of five. This was our biggest game of the year and we played all four quarters, just how Coach [Larry] Kempe had us do it at practice.”
Mooney looked dominant early, taking a 10-0 lead on a 42-yard field goal by Laz Frisone and a 15-yard TD run by Justus Ellis-Moore, who missed practice this week with an injured shoulder. In between, the Cardinals recovered a hard pooch kickoff that bounced off an Ursuline player, allowing them to control the ball for the game’s first 81/2 minutes.
Ursuline (6-3) controlled the rest. Time and again, Irish quarterback Chris Durkin lined up in the shotgun and either handed it off to one of his talented backs or kept it himself. All three choices worked, with Durkin running for 137 yards and three TDs, Thigpen going for 73 yards and Jermaine Williams adding 86.
“Once we got rolling offensively, our offense did a fabulous job,” said Kempe. “They had a hard time stopping us and our defense was feeding off that.”
The win probably clinched a playoff berth for the Irish, who entered the game sixth in the Division V, Region 17 computer ratings and travel to Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary next week.
“Coming into the game, we weren’t really thinking about playoffs; we were thinking about beating Mooney,” Thigpen said. “We’ll worry about the playoffs next week or the week after that.”
Added Kempe, “I think [senior lineman] Khalid Pierce put it well: one game at a time. We’re gonna go back to the shrine and celebrate and tomorrow morning we’ll get back to St. V’s and look to the future.”
For Mooney, this year’s future is limited to one game. The Cardinals (3-5) entered the game 14th in the Division III, Region 11 ratings and, like Ursuline last year, will fall victim to a brutal schedule that will leave them at home in Week 11.
“We knew they [Ursuline] were a good football team coming in and we got off to a good start,” said Mooney coach P.J. Fecko, whose team won last year’s Division III state title. “We had some momentum and let it slip away.
“They were able to establish the line of scrimmage and eat a lot of clock and move the ball. We did that in the first half but in the second half we didn’t do as well as we needed.”