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With title game loss behind it, what’s next for Ursuline?

Staff photo/Brian Yauger. Ursuline senior receiver Jakylan Irving eludes a Clinton-Massie defender during Friday's state championship game at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton.

YOUNGSTOWN — With 5:23 left in the third quarter of Friday afternoon’s Division IV state championship game, Ursuline led Clinton-Massie 28-7.

However, the Fighting Irish would end up losing 29-28 in devastating fashion.

So, what went wrong? There’s no simple, short answer.

An amalgamation of several different things combined to influence how the game ended up — different Irish receivers dropped certain passes in key moments of the second half, Clinton-Massie’s wishbone run game wore down Ursuline’s defense with different looks up front and/or untimely penalties that put Ursuline’s offense behind the chains, including the fake punt pass fourth-down conversion that was negated by an illegal man downfield penalty.

“We had eight penalties, and it wasn’t a huge number of penalty yards necessarily, but a five-yard penalty puts you behind the sticks,” head coach Dan Reardon said. “There were a number of times in both halves where we were in the red zone and we’d have 1st-and-10 and get a five-yard penalty…So then we missed the field goal and we don’t get points out of it.”

“The net result — it catches up with you,” Reardon continued. “We had some drops too and we need to do better there. Those mistakes add up over the course of a game against a good football team.”

In the first half, Ursuline’s offense had all the momentum. Late in the third quarter and in the fourth quarter, it disappeared. Senior quarterback Brady Shannon said he felt the Irish’s own mistakes offensively ended up being their undoing.

“The penalties — we were kind of shooting ourselves in the foot,” Shannon said. “They adjusted to us pretty well, but we still had opportunities to make plays and we didn’t. The defense can only hold them for so long. We can’t rely completely on the defense to stop them because we knew they had a very powerful offense on the ground. We had that 21-point lead, but we had to keep on going and we couldn’t just lay down.”

But, even after the heartbreak they endured, the Irish know what they accomplished this season and over the past few years to build the program back up from winning three games in two seasons to competing for a state championship again.

“This disappointment never goes away,” Reardon said. “But these guys are going to look back at some point and they’re going to realize what they accomplished to be in this position. There’s coaches who coach for 50 years and players that play for an entire career without even getting close to this…These guys need to be proud, should be proud. I’m proud of them.”

Even though the season didn’t end the way it had hoped, there’s still reason for Ursuline to be optimistic for the future.

After all, when Ursuline lost the state championship game in 2007, it bounced back by winning three straight state championships over the next three seasons.

Continuity helps when building a program year-to-year. Much of the coaching staff that was around for that run, is back with the team now — including Reardon, who returned for his second stint with the Irish in 2019.

Even though several of Ursuline’s key skill position players will move on and graduate, including Shannon, senior running back DeMarcus McElroy and senior receivers Dean Boyd and Jakylan Irving, several pieces return for the Irish to build on next season.

Three of five members of the starting offensive line will be back next year, along with receivers Marc Manning and Will Burney and running back Christian Lynch.

The Irish will also return eight of 11 starters defensively, including sophomores Ty’Req Donlow and CJ Frasco and junior Michael Branch.

“What happened was just destiny,” Boyd said. “I think it’s just going to make us stronger, motivate us for next season and I’m looking forward to watching us win the state championship next year.”

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