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Heartbreak for Irish: Ursuline falls to Clinton-Massie in state championship, 29-28

Staff writer / Brian Yauger. A dejected DeMarcus McElroy following the Ursuline’s heartbreaking 29-28 loss to Clinton-Massie in the Division IV state championship game at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton.

CANTON — Ursuline always expected to be here. Even amidst all the trials and tribulations of the past few seasons, including injuries and COVID-19, the Fighting Irish felt they were good enough — knew they were good enough to play for a state championship.

They just expected it to end differently.

Ursuline gave up 22 unanswered points in the second half to fall to Clinton-Massie 29-28 Friday afternoon in the Division IV state championship game.

“To say I’m incredibly proud of our seniors would be a massive understatement,” said Ursuline head coach Dan Reardon. “The momentum shifts within the game were dramatic. We had a lot of momentum in the first half and they obviously had it in the second half and credit to them, they’re a very good football team that knows how to win. I think we had a lot of missed opportunities that will create some ‘what-ifs’ in the back of everyone’s mind.”

Ursuline finishes its season 11-4 as the Division IV runner-up, while Clinton-Massie claims its third state championship in the last decade and first since going back-to-back in 2012 and 2013.

“I’ve coached a long time — this is my 36th year and this is, without question, one of the greatest comebacks I’ve ever been a part of,” Clinton-Massie head coach Dan McSurley said. “I’ve been a part of some great teams, and this is one of the absolute best football teams I’ve been part of. We knew this senior class was special all the way down to the third grade.”

Down 28-21, the Falcons faced fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line with 48 seconds left. Falcons quarterback Kody Zantene had the Irish defense fooled on a fake handoff and kept it on a bootleg to walk into the end zone.

Staff photo / Brian Yauger. Clinton-Massie’s Kody Zantene walks into the end zone to cut the Falcons deficit to one late in the fourth quarter against Ursuline Friday afternoon at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton.

After closing the deficit to one, the Falcons opted to go for two and the win.

“I thought we had the momentum of the game in our favor,” McSurley said. “I was thinking, ‘Let’s go ahead and kick it and we’ll beat these guys in overtime,’ but I gave these guys a choice. All the seniors said, ‘Coach, let’s go win this thing.'”

Even in their old fashioned, ground-and-pound wishbone offense, the Falcons have a lot of weapons offensively that a defense has to account for on any given play. A little misdirection and Clinton-Massie’s Carson Van Hoose found himself in the end zone to give the Falcons the lead.

“The play we went for two on — they’ve been running it since third grade,” McSurley said. “It was a thing of beauty — it was like Darrell Royal’s spirit came out of the grave and pulled Carson across the goal line.”

Ursuline had 0:36 left to score, but four incomplete passes later, the Irish turned the ball over on downs and the game was over.

“This is just going to make us stronger,” said senior receiver Dean Boyd. “I thought we deserved this more than anyone else in Ohio. We’ve worked so hard towards this and to come up short — it’s heartbreaking. Right now I just feel kind of numb. It’s not really sinking in yet.”

Staff photo/Michael Taylor. Ursuline’s Dean Boyd catches a touchdown in the third quarter against Clinton-Massie Friday in the state championship game at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton.

The Falcons knew in order to keep Ursuline’s quick-strike offense off the field, they would have to play keepaway and control the ball for long drives that chewed up clock.

In the beginning, that’s what it did. Clinton-Massie took the ball first after Ursuline deferred to the second half, and the Falcons then grounded and pounded their way to a touchdown on a 17-play drive that ate up 9:13 of the first quarter.

But it didn’t matter.

Ursuline scored three touchdowns in the second quarter, two of which came on runs by senior running back DeMarcus McElroy and the third on a 39-yard pass from senior quarterback Brady Shannon to senior receiver Jakylan Irving.

None of Ursuline’s four touchdown drives took longer than 2:51. McElroy led all rushers with 162 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries, while Shannon was 15-of-28 for 185 yards and two scores. Boyd caught Shannon’s other touchdown pass.

Staff photo / Brian Yauger. Ursuline’s Demarcus McElroy stiff arms a Clinton-Massie defender on a run during the first half of Friday’s state championship game at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton.

After its first touchdown, Ursuline recovered a high pooch kick on the ensuing kickoff. The extra possession gave the Irish the extra possession it needed to take the lead.

“We knew coming in that we were going to use that at some point in time,” Reardon said. “Their offense has the ability to grind out clock and we knew at some point in time we were going to try to steal a possession.”

Ten plays later, Ursuline had a 14-7 lead, and then the defense went to work. The Irish forced punts on each of Clinton-Massie’s next three possessions enroute to its 21-7 halftime lead.

The second half was a different story.

After the Falcons amassed just 123 total yards in the first half, they racked up 223 in the second half — all of those coming on the ground.

“They have the ability to wear you down and they’re patient — they’re very good at what they do,” Reardon said. “Aside from the opening drive, I thought our guys played really well defensively in the first half. But they have a lot of answers for what you do defensively. We were giving some different looks up front and they’ve run this offense for a long time. They know how to adjust to everything. Ultimately they did a good job making adjustments and made more plays than we did in the second half.”

After struggling to move the ball in the first half, Clinton-Massie’s offensive line began opening up all kinds of holes for its runners to go through in the second half. Several long run plays led to scores that kept the Falcons in the game till it finally pulled ahead in the end, as Zantene, Van Hoose and fellow running back Colton Trampler started breaking tackles and bouncing off Ursuline defenders.

“Our guys were coming off the ball with attitude and effort, but they were able to get the ball on the perimeter,” Reardon said. “The thing is, you have to commit so many resources to stop the inside run game that it makes you vulnerable and you have to be almost perfect for those perimeter plays.”

nmadhavan@tribtoday.com

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