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Football Lookahead: Steubenville Will Have Its Hands Full With Ursuline

October 17, 2013
By ED LOOMAN , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

When it comes to Youngstown Ursuline, Steubenville coach Reno Saccoccia knows exactly what his team is going to get.

"They want to run the football, that's their M.O.," Saccoccia said. "They'll throw it if they have to and sometimes when they don't have to, but they want to run the ball. They want to be a physical offensive team, just line up and run it at you."

Big Red and Ursuline will meet for the 10th time Friday. Saccoccia's crew holds a 6-3 series lead. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. inside Stambaugh Stadium on the campus of Youngstown State University.

To date, Ursuline has had an up-and-down year. The Irish of coach Larry Kempe stand at 3-3. Two of Ursuline's losses have to come to teams that remain unbeaten (Aquinas Institute of Rochester, N.Y., and Erie Cathedral Prep), but the Irish also gave up 42 points in a loss to Lake Catholic in Week 3. Lake Catholic stands at 1-6.

Ursuline has defeated Walsh Jesuit (4-3), Massillon Jackson (4-3) and Erie Strong Vincent (2-5).

The Irish have a nine-game regular season schedule and, as is generally the case, the slate is brutal. After Big Red, Ursuline will play its annual grudge match with Cardinal Mooney before playing host to unbeaten Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary.

"Ursuline is very physical," Saccoccia said. "They have a lot of athletes and their defensive line is physical and fast. The offensive line is good enough to do what they do."

Kempe has 77 players on his roster, making the 2013 Ursuline squad one of the deepest in decades. Of the total, 56 are either freshmen or sophomores. The Ursuline roster includes nine seniors.

Saccoccia pointed out Ursuline is similar to Big Red when it comes to starting younger players, adding Kempe's club does have seniors at key positions.

"If you look at their whole team, the guys they are playing are as young as we are," he added. "But at those key positions (quarterback, running back, wide receiver and up the middle on defense), they have seniors."

Chris Durkin, a Michigan State recruit, is back for his third year at quarterback for Ursuline. The 6-foot-4, 235-pound senior ran for more than 700 yards and seven touchdowns as a junior while throwing for close to 900 yards and six scores.

Durkin tweaked an ankle in the loss to Cathedral Prep and was held out of the Strong Vincent game.

"He's good," Saccoccia said of Durkin. "If you're a quarterback and you're recruited by Michigan State, you have to be good. He is a tough player both mentally and physically. He's a big, strong kid who can run and throw. Plus, he had a big game against us last year.

In 2012 at Harding Stadium, Durkin ran for 77 yards and passed for 133 more. He had 176 yards of offense in the first half as Ursuline built a 24-0 lead and cruised to a 31-7 victory.

Durkin's main targets are seniors Tannor Berry and Michael Montalbano. Seniors George Baal, Jordan Davis and Zach Scheetz open holes up front for a young, but talented group of running backs. Junior Ben Phillips is a threat at running back and also as a receiver.

Defensively, senior end ShaHaun Williams, 6-2, 235, (11 sacks in 2012) leads a unit that returned three starters. Kempe wants to get back to playing the type of fast defense that helped the Irish go unbeaten in 2010.

Big Red stands at 5-2 after last week's loss to Salesianum. The defeat dropped Saccoccia's club to 10th in this week's Ohio AP Division IV poll. As far as the computer rankings go, Big Red is fifth in Region 13.

"We had several bright spots in the game with Salesianum," Saccoccia said. "Our kids matched them hit for hit. We just suffered from a couple of freak plays, those two interceptions for touchdowns. And it was the way they happened (both came off tips) that was really strange.

"But our kids fought back and it was 15-12 at one time and 22-19 at another. We were in the game until deep in the fourth quarter."

Several individuals had solid games for Big Red and overall, Saccoccia pointed out "we played a very, very good, physical football game.

"It was a check-your-guts kind of a game and we passed every test except the final score. It's going to be like that for the rest of the season, that's why we play 10 games."

Saccoccia added his club still controls its own fate.

"We're still in the position where we control our own destiny. To be 5-2 and still control your destiny says something about the type of schedule you play."

Through seven games, Big Red's defense is allowing 231 yards and 22 points per outing. Offensively, they have per-game averages of 336 yards and 32 points.

Garon Lytle continues to top Steubenville's tailback by committee with 328 yards. Robert Hayden has 286, Donte Brown 234 and Johnnie Blue 195.

Sophomore quarterbacks Dimitri Collaros and Mandela-Lawrence Burke have thrown for 965 and 10 TDs. Lawrence-Burke also has contributed 237 to the rushing attack.

Cody Saltsman has 14 grabs to pace the Big Red receivers.

Lucas Herrington and Bryan Pierro have 13 each.

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