Ursuline-Mooney friendly rivals GET READY TO stick it to one anotheR
By Tom Williams
In the 1975 movie “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” there’s a scene where the collector walks the streets shouting “Bring Out Your Dead.” (This scene has a much happier ending in the Broadway musical “Monty Python’s Spamalot” inspired by the film.)
A peasant approaches and offers him the body he’s carrying. But as the exchange is being made, the body pops up and says, “I’m not dead yet.”
The Ursuline High School football team can relate. Even though the Irish are 2-6, they have not yet been eliminated from playoff contention, according to the fabulous website JoeEitel.com (the web address Blitz Picks contestants rely on for guidance).
Believe it or not, the Irish, who occupy the 21st spot of Division IV Region 13, have not been mathematically eliminated.
That’s because Ursuline’s remaining opponents — Cardinal Mooney (4-4) and Akron SVSM (5-3) — are loaded with points because of quality wins. (Only the top eight teams per region qualify for Week 11). This week, Mooney is eighth in the same region.
“That’s a testament to our schedule,” said Ursuline head coach Larry Kempe, referring to both schools. “[We’re] still fighting for something.”
The Cardinals and Irish looking to the bright side of life, as if Youngstown’s Holy War needed any more spice. But when Cardinal Mooney and Ursuline meet tonight at Youngstown State University’s Stambaugh Stadium, someone’s postseason hopes are going to take a direct hit.
“It’s such a popular rivalry,” said Mooney head coach P.J. Fecko, referring to atmosphere in the community and school. “More than getting them ready, I think [it’s a challenge] to keep everybody focused.
“There’s so much going on, there is so much alumni involvement,” Fecko said. “You’ve got to remember at the end of the week is the ultimate.
“You’ve got to enjoy all of it as a player — it’s a tremendous experience this week, so traditional for both sides.”
Senior lineman Vinny Gentile agreed.
“It’s not a typical rivalry, it’s a respected rivalry — two great high school football teams who go out and battle. They call it the Holy War for a reason.”
Asked if he needs much to motivate his players, Kempe said, “I would hope not! As if last week wasn’t bad enough.”
He was referring to Ursuline’s double-overtime loss (20-14) to Boardman, a game the Irish led 14-7 until late in the fourth quarter.
With Week 9 here, Region 13 is loaded with talented teams. If the playoffs began today, five Mahoning Valley teams would qualify in Region 13: Lakeview (7-1) is third, Poland (7-1) is fourth, Girard (8-0) is fifth and Struthers (6-2) is sixth.
On the outside looking in are Beaver Local (6-2) and Salem (5-3), currently ninth and 10th.
“Mooney obviously needs to win to [stay eighth] or move up,” Kempe said. “We need to win to get off a little bit of a losing streak and keep our dreams alive.”
Players from both teams said the playoff factor is important, but so is the pride that comes from winning the Shillelagh stick.
“My father went to Ursuline, my grandfather went to Ursuline,” Irish senior linebacker Dan McCarthy said. “I was raised around the whole Ursuline-Mooney culture.
“This game is more than anything, it’s my entire life,” McCarthy said. “I wouldn’t give anything up to not play in this game.
“There are no words to describe it,” he said. “It’s the biggest game of my life.”
Gentile says it’s “just an emotional week. It’s kind of like the tradition of the whole city of Youngstown for high school football.
“It’s such a great experience,” Gentile said. “It’s hard to explain to someone who’s never taken part in it.”
Mooney quarterback Antonio Page said it’s more than the records and the stakes.
“It’s about respecting each other,” Page said. “It’s a big game for pride.”
That said, McCarthy says, “I can’t lie — it would be fun to knock them out of the playoffs.”
In recent years, both teams usually have better records going into Week 9. McCarthy said said the records don’t matter.
“Even if we were 0-8 and down and out of it, I’d still play the same as if we were 8-0 — it doesn’t matter to me,” McCarthy said. “I just want to beat them.”
The Cardinals close the season hosting Division I Austintown Fitch (5-3).
“That would be a big confidence boost, to keep things rolling,” Page said of winning two more times.
After a 1-3 start, the Cardinals have won three of their past four games. The blemish came two weeks ago in a 10-9 loss at Akron Buchtel.
The Irish and Cardinals have four common opponents. The Cardinals defeated Boardman 21-7 and lost to Akron SVSM (27-21). Both lost to Akron Hoban (Mooney, 31-13; Ursuline, 49-0). Both defeated Warren Harding (Ursuline, 28-24; Mooney, 15-14).
The Irish also opened 1-4 and bring a three-game losing streak into the game. Irish senior quarterback Jared Fabry said the loss to the Spartans was upsetting so it’s good to have something big on deck.
“It’s a great tradition, a great rivalry, always a lot of energy on the field because of friends [on the other side],” Fabry said. “It’s always a fun game to play in.
“Mooney Week can make or break your season,” Fabry said. “Beating them can fix anything.”
Fabry said he enjoys playing for Kempe.
“Positive guy, always has a lot of energy,” Fabry said. “He just know what he’s talking about.”
The Cardinals’ mission is stop the Irish’s two main threats on offense — Fabry’s arm and Joe Floyd’s legs. Floyd gashed Boardman for 170 yards. In Week 6’s 38-26 loss to Aquinas Institute (N.Y.), he rushed for 209 yards.
“They have two guys with experience capable of putting points on the board,” Fecko said.
The Irish have to find a way to slow Page, who had 807 yards rushing and 484 yards passing after seven games.
Page, who also plays strong safety, said he has no preference.
“I like them both, I like being able to run the ball and make people miss,” Page said. “And I like being able to come up and make big hits.”
Page said the Ursuline record is deceptive.
“Their record doesn’t show what they have, they’re a pretty dangerous team,” Page said. “They’ve been playing a lot of good competition. They are somebody to be reckoned with.”
Neutral observer Joe Ignazio agrees.
“They have probably — I can probably say this for the time in a long time — a tougher schedule than we have,” the Boardman head coach said. “They’ve been in every game, they’ve battled. They have a great coaching staff.”
Kempe said this week is different “because of all the festivities that surround Ursuline-Mooney Week.
“Both schools are caught up in whatever is going on in the school community.”
Kempe prefers to let others revel in the rivalry.
“Myself, I come in and I coach football,” Kempe said. “I’m not painting any signs — my job is to put us in the best position to be successful.
“And I know that is Coach Fecko’s job, too.”