By Ryan buck
Steubenville’s well-known — be that good or bad — football program is nicknamed in honor of the legendary horse Man O’War.
The Ursuline Irish have their own stable of beasts and when the Big Red stumbled out of the gates, the Irish pulled away like a tremendous machine in their 46-21 win.
Ursuline scored on its opening drive then capitalized on early Big Red miscues to build a 32-0 halftime lead they would ultimately sustain.
“This is what I’ve been waiting for, for the better part of eight weeks, to show that we can play four quarters of good football against a good football team,” Irish coach Larry Kempe said.
On the first play from scrimmage, after Ben Phillips’ 44-yard return, Damon Green ripped off a 23-yard run into Big Red territory. One play after he hit Vito Penza out of the back field for a crucial first down on fourth-and-one at the Steubenville 28, Chris Durkin hit Phillips for a 20-yard touchdown and the Irish were off and running.
They forced Steubenville to punt in three plays on the Big Red’s first drive. The snap sailed over the head of punter John Paul Duff, who turned and kicked the ball through the back of the end zone for a safety and Ursuline led 9-0.
Penza capped Ursuline’s next drive with a 7-yard run and Durkin started their next drive with a 38-yard option keeper. Still recovering from an injured ankle that kept him out of Ursuline’s win over Erie Strong Vincent a week ago, he dove in from 7 yards out one play later for a 23-0 lead.
The Big Red drove to the Irish 14 early in the second quarter, thanks in part to a 15-yard penalty. The Irish defense stopped Mandela Lawrence-Burke on two straight runs to set up a fourth-and-7.
Ursuline freshman Jeff Marx broke into the backfield and stripped Lawrence-Burke as he tried to cut back upfield. Giacomo Cappabianca fell on the loose ball.
Afer Ursuline defensive end ShaHaun Williams stopped Lawrence-Burke on a third-and-short, the Big Red were forced to punt from their own 39.
“We’ve been practicing all the formations and all the stuff they could throw at us this week,” said Williams, who consistently pressured the Big Red backs behind the line of scrimmage.
“Kudos to the coaches for preparing us for tonight and everybody being gap-sound and playing fast.”
Again, Duff saw the snap sail over his head and he again had to kick it through the end zone.
Durkin led the Irish on another march after they returned Duff’s free kick to the Steubenville 45. A 33-yard pitch and catch to Phillips was nullified by a bizarre belated penalty on the Irish, spurred on by Big Red coach Reno Saccoccia’s 15-minute discussion with the officials.
Unfazed, Green and Durkin made up the lost yardage on long runs and Durkin bulled his way to a first down on fourth-and-2 at Steubenville’s 22. Two plays later, the Michigan State recruit gave Ursuline a 32-0 lead on a quarterback sneak as the first half came to a close.
“They’re a very well-balanced team,” Saccoccia said. “The quarterback’s a really good, physical player and the team feeds off of him.”
Irish sophomore running back Kimauni Johnson answered Johnnie Blue’s one-yard touchdown run with a three-yarder of his own, then puncuated perhaps the Irish’s best overall performance of the year with a 42-yard burst down the right sideline.