By Ryan buck
An early deficit left Ursuline playing catch-up and perhaps facing a stroke of divine intervention Saturday night at Osbourne Stadium in Mentor.
The Irish erased deficits of 21-0 and 28-21 before late miscues doomed them in their 42-27 loss to Mentor Lake Catholic.
Cougars senior defensive back Connor Robinson, playing exactly one week after his older brother’s death, picked off two Irish passes, the last coming as Ursuline was driving for the tying score.
“I am upset at the constant mistakes that we make,” said Ursuline coach Larry Kempe, whose team fell victim to three turnovers and six costly penalties. “Until we’re going to straighten that out, our chances of success are limited and a comeback shows you when you do what you’re capable of doing when you have a shot at success. When you play the way we played, you have no shot at success.”
On the Cougars’ first play from scrimmage, quarterback Dylan Bell dropped back and found wideout Anthony Christopher down the right sideline for a 71-yard touchdown.
On Ursuline’s opening possession, Robinson stepped in front of Chris Durkin’s pass and returned the Irish turnover deep into Irish territory. Lake Catholic running back Bret Zimmerman found the end zone from four yards out several plays later.
After forcing a three-and-out from the Irish, Bell marched his team into Ursuline territory again. Masai McDaniel broke free up the middle for a 25-yard scoring run with 4:47 left in the first quarter.
Desperate for some production from their formerly prolific offense, the Irish went to their deep stable of running backs.
Ursuline (1-1) then marched 70 yards to get its first score, a 13-yard run by Kimauni Johnson. After trading punts, the Irish got within eight points on Vito Penza’s 1-yard run early in the second quarter.
Durkin, a Michigan State recruit, then completed a 5-yard TD pass to Damon Green with 6:54 left in the third quarter, fighting off two would-be tacklers before he released the ball. Marcus Mosley converted the two-point conversion to tie the game at 21 with seven minutes left in the third.
“I don’t know if it gets any better as a football player at the high school level in the state of Ohio than him,” Lake Catholic coach Mike Bell said of Durkin.
On the Cougars’ first offensive play of the second half, the Lake Catholic (1-1) line broke Zimmerman for a long run and Andrew Vargo put the Cougars back on top, 28-21.
It was back to the ground as Durkin bulled his way inside the Cougars 20 before his acrobatic option pitch to Johnson (who rumbled the final 15 yards) brought the Irish to within one.
Vince Yurcho’ extra point attempt, however, sailed wide.
With 8:34 left in the fourth quarter, the Irish forced Lake Catholic to punt. Bell’s punt bounced inside the 5-yard line and appeared headed for the end zone and a touchback. The ever-reliable Tannor Barry, back to return the kick, was hit and fumbled as he tried to return the ball from the shadows of his own goal posts. Christian Topazio, a 115-pound reserve special-teamer, fell on the ball in the end zone.
The extra point gave Lake Catholic a 35-27 lead.
Still, the Irish had their chances. Penza intercepted Bell with under three minutes left inside Cougar territory. Three plays later, Durkin scrambled and under immense pressure had his pass, intended for Ben Phillips, picked by Robinson.
The Mentor faithful were clad in shirts honoring his older brother, Michael, a former Cougar player and Ohio University freshman.
“Life’s tough,” Bell said. “We’re all fighting our demons and facing adversity. I can’t be prouder of the way these young men, this program, and the people connected to Lake Catholic have responded over the course of the past week.
“I can’t be prouder of him and the way he’s responded.”
Zimmerman busted a 37-yard touchdown run with 29 seconds left in the fourth quarter.