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Another nailbiter: Harding falls to Ursuline, 50-49

Staff photo / Joel Whetzel Ursuline running back DeMarcus McElroy (6) stiff arms Harding’s Saad Dukes (21) as Jakylan Irving (10) throws a block for the Irish. McElroy tied Ursuline’s school record for rushing touchdowns in a game with five, and tallied 146 yards on 34 carries.

WARREN — It’s been a season full of close calls and frustrations for the Warren G. Harding Raiders, and Friday was the latest example.

After taking a 6-point lead with 2:23 remaining the game, Harding needed just one final stop to upend Ursuline and pick up a hard-fought win to get its season back on track.

However, after Dalys Jett bolted 48 yards for Harding’s go-ahead touchdown, Ursuline’s Jakylan Irving housed the ensuing kickoff to put the Irish back in front for good, 50-49. Irving’s return was 85 yards.

It encapsulates much of how the Raiders’ season has gone so far, as Harding (1-4) fell to Massillon 49-46 a week ago, 17-10 to Hudson earlier this year and played Medina close for much of the night to open the year with a 31-14 defeat.

“We just have to keep fighting. We have to keep pounding the rock,” Harding coach Steve Arnold said. “Ultimately, just when you think ‘I don’t want to do this anymore,’ you hit the next one and you have a beautiful diamond. So we have to keep pounding the rock.”

Conversely, Ursuline’s narrow escape marked the second time in as many weeks that the Irish (4-1) won by a point, and the third time this year that a win was within one possession. Ursuline topped Austintown Fitch 48-47 last week at Falcon Stadium, and opened the year with a 62-58 heartstopper against Columbus Bishop Hartley.

Irish head coach Reardon says he’s proud of his team’s resilience to keep pulling these out.

“I think that’s what I’m most proud of,” he said. “We’ve had three wins that haven’t been pretty. … I’m proud of our kids to find ways to win in these tight situations; it says a lot about their character.”

He added, “The other thing is I think we just have a lot of confidence that it doesn’t matter what the score is, we believe somebody is going to make a play. Our guys just keep playing.”

Jett threw for 245 yards and three touchdowns and added 129 yards and three more scores on the ground for Harding. Two of his rushing touchdowns came in the fourth quarter to rally the Raiders from a 43-34 deficit into their 49-43 lead.

Tyriq Ivory hauled in six grabs for 144 yards and two touchdowns, including a 77-yard score on a 1st-and-24. Dom Foster added 106 yards and a touchdown on four receptions.

“Between (Tyriq) and Dom, they’re very explosive, and Dalys made big plays,” Arnold said. “You score 49, you think you’ll win. We knew we’d have to score because Ursuline is capable of scoring. It’s just disappointing to say the least, but we have to get up and continue to fight, get better, learn from film and move forward.”

The Raiders’ undoing proved to be big chunk plays by Ursuline. Often, the Raiders would have the Irish in 3rd down and some distance, but big pickups would thwart Harding’s defense.

Much of Ursuline’s success came by way of tailback DeMarcus McElroy, who pounded out 146 yards and five touchdowns on 34 carries, and added 88 receiving yards. His five scores tie Ursuline’s school record, according to Reardon.

Of McElroy, Reardon said, “He has really good patience and works, weaves and finds spots to hit and gets a couple extra yards. It adds up. He’s having a heck of a year for us, and we’re proud of him. He’s worked hard.”

Irish quarterback Brady Shannon threw 327 yards and a touchdown, while Marc Manning grabbed five passes for 126 yards and a score. Dean Boyd added four receptions for 90 yards.

Friday’s thriller marked the second year in a row the Irish and Raiders went down to the wire. In the 2020 matchup, Harding came away with a 28-24 victory courtesy of a rushing touchdown with 45 seconds to go.

“Last year, we didn’t make that one play. This year we did,” Reardon said. “We have great games against these guys, and I have a ton of respect for their players, coaches and their program. I spent six great years here early in my career (as an assistant from 1998 to 2003), and I have nothing but love for the city of Warren.”

The Irish take on Chaney next week, while Harding visits Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary.

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