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Ursuline punches its ticket

Fighting Irish beat Port Clinton 34-17 to advance to Division IV state championship

Ursuline’s DeMarcus McElroy runs the ball away from the Port Clinton defenders during the second half of their State Semi-Final game, Saturday night at Euclid High School. (David Dermer/Warren Tribune Chronicle)

EUCLID — It’s been a journey more than two years in the making, but Ursuline is headed to Canton.

After knocking off Region 14 champion Port Clinton 34-17 Friday night, the Irish will play Clarksville Clinton-Massie for a Division IV state championship next week, in search of their first state title since 2010.

“It feels really good,” senior running back DeMarcus McElroy said. “We’ve been playing for this for almost three years and we finally made it. We practiced our best every day — made sure we were at our best Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday to have our best Friday game and it showed.”

Head coach Dan Reardon and his coaching staff have been sowing the seeds for this moment for some time. In 2018 and 2019, the Irish had three total wins. Then in 2020, Ursuline went 7-3 before bowing out in the regional final.

In 2019, they took the team to the Division IV state championship game in Canton to get a taste of what it would be like, and perhaps even more important — show the players what they were working towards. Then, prior to the start of this season, in July, the coaching staff took the Irish to practice in Canton.

“Our senior class has been through a lot,” Reardon said. “As freshmen and sophomores, they won a combined three football games. Junior year we were very close but had an unfortunate set of circumstances and we came up short. It’s been a two-year goal. We’ve talked about being a state champion. Canton has been on this team’s mind, and I’m just proud of our kids that they are able to get there.”

In the end, despite hanging for almost three full quarters, and pulling ahead briefly at the end of the third, Port Clinton couldn’t keep up with Ursuline’s high-flying offense — particularly McElroy, who torched the Redskins’ defense for 259 rushing yards and five touchdowns on 30 carries and also caught a pass for 51 yards.

“It was just patience,” McElroy said. “When (the offensive line) pulls, I got to be patient and once they stick them, I make my cut.”

After Ursuline raced ahead to a 15-0 lead in the first quarter, the Redskins tried to slow the game down behind their power offense and the size of their offensive line. They dominated possession of the ball in the second quarter and grinded out two touchdowns to chip into Ursuline’s lead by halftime.

They continued to do the same in the third quarter and took the lead for the first time on a 20-yard field goal near the end of the period. But, despite doing what they could to keep him off the field, Port Clinton had no answer for McElroy.

Port Clinton’s lead lasted for only a minute as McElroy raced up the middle of the field for a 42-yard touchdown at the end of the third quarter.

Port Clinton had multiple possessions and chances to pull ahead again, but the Irish defense rose to the occasion, forcing three-and-outs and a critical turnover-on-downs with under three minutes to go.

“I thought our kids did a really good job in the second half of bending but not breaking and then getting some stops,” Reardon said. “Then our offense was able to put a couple scores together to put the game out of reach.

To get the stops it needed and break through the Redskins’ offensive line, sophomore defensive end Ty’Req Donlow said they used their speed. That speed also helped the Irish put pressure on Port Clinton quarterback Cam Gillum as he tried to get the Redskins’ back into the game with his legs and arm.

“When we need a stop, we need a stop,” Donlow said. “We needed to get our offense back on the field so they could go score.”

Ursuline’s defense held Port Clinton well below its season average with just 296 total yards of offense, including 175 on the ground on 40 carries.

On offense, senior quarterback Brady Shannon helped the Irish make plays in the passing game to help complement what McElroy did on the ground. Shannon completed 10-of-16 of his passes for 195 yards as Ursuline finished with 481 total yards of offense.

“Our kids know that we’re going to be aggressive (offensively),” Reardon said. “I think it changes the play-calling mentality and our kids know that and I think they play a little looser as a result. I think it’s something that puts pressure on the defense, as well. (Being aggressive) is something we’ve always tried to do and this year is no different.”

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