By Joe Scalzo
Ursuline High football coach Larry Kempe is a laid-back*, genteel, go-with-the-flow-and-not-try-to-stir-things-up kind of guy, so when his team got out-muscled in the first half by Mentor Lake Catholic, he gave his team a message.
(*Note: these are lies.)
Ursuline QB Chris Durkin’s version: “Coach Kempe told us we needed to execute up front.”
Kempe’s version: “At halftime, I wasn’t happy with the way we were doing some things and I’m the kind of guy who’s going to get in your face. We got in some faces.”
With the game tied at halftime, the Irish opened up the second half with an 11-play, 71-yard touchdown drive that gave them a lead they never lost, dropping the Cougars 21-7 on Friday at Stambaugh Stadium.
“I’m very proud of our offense in the second half,” said Kempe. “We can be very good when we play as a group.”
Durkin (6-3, 213) rushed 15 times for a game-high 93 yards and a touchdown for Ursuline (3-0) and also completed all seven of his passes for 73 yards.
“Chris made some great decisions,” Kempe said. “Chris is growing. The great thing about Chris is, he threw some nice passes but he’s getting the idea of when to tuck and run and get the yardage.
“And he’s a load. He’s a load running the ball.”
After Ursuline took its 14-7 lead, the Cougars (1-3) drove 48 yards in 10 plays but were stuffed on fourth-and-1 at the Irish 29. Ursuline came up empty on its next drive, stalling at the Lake Catholic 12 but, on the ensuing play, Ursuline’s Khalid Pierce, made the game’s biggest play.
The senior defensive lineman jumped in front of Cougar QB Mark Baniewicz’s pass and returned it to the 1. Two plays later, Jermaine Williams ran it in for a 21-7 lead.
“We’re young in a lot of spots,” said Kempe, pointing specifically to his defense. “But I said, ‘Listen, I don’t care what grade you’re in. Step up and play when you get the opportunity.’ And they did.”
Williams had 63 yards on 16 carries and Tramain Thigpen added 54 on 11 carries with a TD.
Baniewicz led Lake Catholic with 73 yards on 20 carries but completed just 8 of 27 passes for 67 yards and two interceptions. John Stepec had the Cougars’ only touchdown on a 3-yard run with 13 seconds left in the first half.
The win should give the Irish a boost in the computer ratings, no small matter for a team that felt it could have challenged for a fourth straight state title last fall, only to narrowly miss the playoffs with a 4-6 record.
And with road games against Zanesville (Division II), Lakewood St. Edward (Division I), Erie (Pa.) Cathedral Prep (Division II equivalent) and Steubenville (Division III) coming up over the next four weeks, the Irish couldn’t afford to let Friday’s game slip away.
“Lake Catholic, they’re a great team,” Durkin said. “They’re a hard-playing team, they’re well-coached and they executed very well.
“We just out-played them today. I think we played harder, we came out hungry and we wanted to win more than they did.”