Ursuline, Harding set to clash
WARREN — Having each faced some of the state’s top teams so far this season, Ursuline and Warren G. Harding now will turn their attention to each other tonight at Mollenkopf Stadium.
The Irish (3-1) have compiled wins against Columbus Bishop Hartley (2-2), Hickory (PA, 1-2) and Austintown Fitch (2-1). Hartley and Fitch each would be in line to host a first-round playoff game if the postseason ended this week, according to computer rankings released by the OHSAA.
The wins over Hartley and Fitch were by scores of 62-58 and 48-47, respectively. Ursuline’s lone loss was a 36-27 decision against reigning Division III state champion Chardon.
“All these close games are taking years off my heart, I think,” Ursuline head coach Dan Reardon joked.
Harding (1-3) has had a tough start to the season, but the three losses can be a bit deceiving. The Raiders losses have come to Medina (4-0 and is the No. 1-ranked team in Division I, Region 1), Hudson (4-0, No. 3 team in Division II, Region 5) and Massillon (3-1, No. 7 team in Division II, Region 7). The Raiders hammered Youngstown East 55-0 in Week 2.
Reardon says his team knows a challenge awaits.
“We have to get better. The thing with Harding is if you look at their record, you’d think they aren’t good,” he noted. “But they’ve lost three games to teams that are (a combined) 11-1, and they went deep into the fourth quarter with them. We have to play a great game because they have weapons all over the place.”
Raider head coach Steve Arnold says his team just has to keep plugging away in order to turn the corner. The losses to Hudson and Massillon were each by just one score, and Harding hung around for a while with Medina.
“We just have to get ready to play and have a great week of practice,” Arnold said. “We can’t hang our heads. We just have to build on the positives from Massillon and be ready to play against a talented Ursuline team.”
In the Irish, Harding will face off against a high-octane offense that’s averaged nearly 47 points per game, and has broken 45 in each of its wins.
Ursuline can deploy multiple weapons, as quarterback Brady Shannon has thrown for 771 yards and 10 touchdowns on a 58-for-92 start to the year. Meanwhile, running back DeMarcus McElroy has carried the ball 88 times for 746 yards and 11 touchdowns — averages of 186.5 yards per game and 8.5 yards per carry.
Dean Boyd and Marc Manning are Shannon’s favorite targets. Boyd, a Harvard commit, has 15 receptions for 248 yards and a touchdown on the year while Manning has a team-high 16 receptions for 190 yards and four scores.
“You have to take away the best things they do, because you can’t prepare for everything,” Arnold said. “So you try to take away the things they like to do, neutralize that and then keep the football out of their hands, as well.”
Reardon says the Irish will continue to seek that balanced attack.
“When we’re at our best, we’re able to have a good mix, and along with that just take what the defense gives us and not force things,” he said. “The other thing we always talk about, and it sounds like coach speak but it’s true, is we have to take care of the football and create takeaways. For the most part this year we’ve done a good job of that, and as a result the offense has been pretty dynamic at times.”
On the flip side, Harding’s offense has had a season of extremes. The Raiders put up 46 points against Massillon and hung 55 on East, but were held to 14 and 10 by Medina and Hudson, respectively.
In last week’s 49-46 loss to Massillon, quarterback Dalys Jett exploded for 360 yards and five touchdowns on a 21-for-34 night.
That said, Arnold says to still expect Harding to try and establish its run game, too.
“The intent is always to run the ball successfully. Sometimes it doesn’t work that way, and you have to take what the defense gives you and take advantage of what’s working well,” he said. “Last week, our linemen gave our quarterback time, he made good decisions and our receivers got open and made plays.”
And though Arnold wouldn’t comment specifically on what Harding plans to attack tonight, he did mention that ball security is of the utmost importance.
“Number 1, we have to take care of the ball. … And again, what’s working and what’s successful during the game, we’ll try to continue to do and make (Ursuline) make adjustments.”
Harding’s skill players stand out to Reardon.
“They have guys that can make plays, and they’ve shown that. They don’t lack for skill,” he said. “We both have good skill, and we have to do a great job of defending against big pass plays. Their receivers have the ability to get behind defenses if you aren’t careful, and then make plays in the open field. So we’ll need to do a good job of pressuring the quarterback and being sound in pass coverage so we don’t give them anything cheap.”
Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m.