FARRELL, Pa. — In recent years, Ursuline has leaned on its potent, explosive offense to win games, so much so that it carried the Irish to the cusp of a state championship a year ago. On Friday night, it was the defense that made the difference for the Fighting Irish.
In a border showdown between two state powers, the Irish rallied and then held on late, stopping Farrell’s (Pa.) offense on the final play of the game to defeat the Steelers 40-38.
After Ursuline scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 10-yard run by Ty’Req Donlow with 3:11 left that was set up by a 61-yard run by Christian Lynch, the Irish needed their defense to make a stop.
Farrell took over at about its own 40 on the ensuing drive, needing only a field goal to win. After a pair of third and fourth-down conversions on passes from Kabron Smith, the Steelers had 1st-and-goal near the 10-yard line.
A Farrell touchdown run was called back due to a penalty, and the Irish defense had new life. A sack by Ursuline’s Brian Frasco with just three seconds to go, left the Steelers with just one last chance.
“We were just coming off the edge and trying to push them into where he had to scramble or do some crazy stuff,” Donlow said.
Another collective sack of Smith by the Irish defense on 4th-and-goal from the 20, sealed the deal as the clock hit :00.
“I thought overall our defense did pretty well because I know what their big-play capability is,” said Irish head coach Dan Reardon. “We saw it in scrimmages, we saw it in games and we saw it on film from last year and they have a ton of really good football players. We knew we had to minimize the big plays and they made a bunch of them, but we were able to make just one more.”
With the Irish down 38-34 heading into the fourth quarter, Farrell had the ball deep in Ursuline territory after recovering a fumble, with an opportunity to extend its lead.
But instead, Ursuline’s defense forced a turnover on downs and then later in the quarter, forced Farrell’s offense into a punt that would lead to Ursuline’s game-winning touchdown run a few plays later.
“Earlier in the game, we were sending pressure more and playing a little bit more man coverage,” Reardon said. “Then we switched to playing a little more zone and not sending pressure. Our D-line was doing a good job of getting pressure down the stretch without sending heat all the time. I thought that was a good adjustment that we made.”
Farrell’s speed, particularly at the skill positions, caused Ursuline fits all night.
“It was exhausting, extremely exhausting” Donlow said of chasing down Farrell’s offensive skill players. “But I had faith in myself and faith in my team that we were going to get it done.”
In the third quarter, Farrell returned two kickoffs for touchdowns — a 90-yard return by Kylon Wilson and a 75-yard return by Brandon Chambers, each of which gave the Steelers go-ahead leads.
The big-play ability was also prevalent in the passing game, as Smith threw 51, 21 and 17-yard touchdown passes.
“Our MO all week was to minimize their big plays and we didn’t do a great job of that,” Reardon said. “Defensively, we didn’t do too badly, but we gave up some special teams plays and that’s something that we have to clean up. Give them credit, they have a ton of skilled athletes. But we have to tackle better and we have to cover kicks better — all those things.”
To counter Farrell’s speed, Ursuline leaned on running back Christian Lynch, who tallied a whopping 43 carries for 260 yards and three touchdowns.
“If you told me before the game that he was going to have 43 carries, I’d be saying we probably need to be a little more multiple,” Reardon said. “But Christian has put together three good football games. He was right around 100 yards in the first game and he had over 200 last week. He’s a good football player and he’s got a good offensive line blocking in front of him. I thought (the O-line) played well and then (Lynch) was able to just go to work when they’re opening those holes.”
With the win, Ursuline now improves to 3-0 and will prepare to host Austintown Fitch at Youngstown State’s Stambaugh Stadium next Friday.