STEUBENVILLE - For Youngstown Ursuline's Larry Kempe, the start was a dream come true. For Reno Saccoccia, it was a nightmare.
The Irish offense, powered by junior quarterback Christopher Durkin, turned all four of its first-half possessions into points. Meanwhile, the aggressive Ursuline defense, which as Saccoccia noted is ''fast at every position,'' bottled up the Big Red attack and made the hosts pay for poor field position.
The result: Ursuline jumped out to early lead and left Harding Stadium with a 31-7 victory Friday.
Big Red's Tajuan Lawson takes off no a kick return against Ursuline on Friday night.
''I've been waiting for our guys to do that,'' Kempe said. ''We did a little exercise earlier this week that was all about trust. I told them to trust their teammates. The message was if they do, good things are going to happen. They trusted their teammates.''
After Big Red mishandled the opening kickoff, Saccoccia's club was forced to start from its own 9. Three plays later, it had to punt from the 6.
Ursuline got the football at the Big Red 26 and needed four snaps before Vince Yurcho booted a 27-yard field goal.
Big Red's next drive also started at the 9. This one lasted six plays before Luke Smith was called upon to punt. The Irish began with decent field position again and reached the end zone thanks to a 3-yard dash by Jermaine Williams. Yurcho's extra point made it 10-0.
''We started with bad field position three times,'' Saccoccia said. ''It's pretty hard to generate anything when you start that deep in your own territory. Bad field position for your offense results in the defense having bad field position. That combination leads to serious problems.
''I was very disappointed with our field position offensively to start the game.''
Durkin, who accounted for 176 yards of total first-half offense, broke Big Red's back several times with huge third-down conversions. One, coming on third-and-goal at the 38, resulted in a Durkin to Sean Allen touchdown pass, increasing Ursuline's lead to 17-0.
Ursuline (4-3) scored once more before the half. Damon Green's interception of a Corey Stinson pass gave his team a fresh set of downs at the Big Red 27. Williams plowed over again from 3 yards away.
Saccoccia's club (5-2) got a huge break to start the third quarter. Ursuline fumbled the kick and Bryan Pierro recovered at the 25. It took eight plays, but hard-running Dashon Redman bulled over from a yard out for what proved to be Big Red's only score.
Big Red went with the short kick but the Ursuline receiver was ready and called for a fair catch. The hosts interfered, costing them another 15-yard penalty. In two plays, the Irish made them pay. Durkin ran for three then Williams found a wide open Tannor Berry on a halfback pass. The 45-yard pass and run represented the final score of the evening.
The Irish finished with 275 yards of offense. Durkin was 15 of 17 for 133 and a score. He attempted just two passes in the second half. He also paced Ursuline's ground game, going for 77 on 14 trips. After Williams' touchdown toss, Kempe's gridders focused on running the football, running the clock and controlling the line of scrimmage.
Big Red managed 175 (98 on the ground and 77 through the air) yards against the Ursuline defense that was excellent against the run and superb against the pass. Redman earned 68 yards on 15 carries.
Between them, the teams drew 26 flags for 216 yards.
''I talked to our players after the game,'' Saccoccia noted. ''They know where I stand and I know where they stand. We're going to see what they're made of during the final three weeks. We'll suffer (Friday night), make sure it hurts bad then get ready to go again.
''Our seniors have to realize they only have 21 days left if we don't go any further than week 10. Hopefully, they'll make it a good 21 days and we'll have more after that.''