Findlay Liberty-Benton’s defense owned the headlines entering Saturday’s Division V state final. Following 48 minutes of play, Youngstown Ursuline’s defense got to tackle the championship trophy. The Irish returned two interceptions for TDs in the final five minutes to stake a 21-0 win in Massillon.
Intercepting L-B quarterback Aaron Craft four times, including three in the fourth quarter, Ursuline used back-to-back interception returns for touchdowns by Dale Peterman and LaVance Turnage in the game’s final five minutes to win its second state title 21-0 at Massillon’s Paul Brown Tiger Stadium. The Irish, who lost last year’s D-V final to Marion Local, also captured the D-IV title in 2000.
Both teams entered the game 14-0.
A crowd of 5,997 watched the Irish shut down and out an L-B offense that was averaging 43 points per game. It was the first shutout in a D-V state championship game since Newark Catholic beat Delphos Jefferson 19-0 in 1985.
Craft, a junior and one of the state’s top quarterbacks, had thrown just three interceptions all year.
“We have a sign in our locker room that says if you can’t run you don’t belong on the field,” Ursuline head coach Dan Reardon said. “These guys bought into that and they attacked the football.
“Obviously this was a defensive game. They have an outstanding team and if you would have told me before the game we were going to shut them out I would have said you were crazy. We hang our hat on our defense and we’ve always done that. I’m extremely proud of what they accomplished today.”
Said Craft, who accounted for 57 TDs and over 4,000 yards of total offense this year: “We moved the ball but we couldn’t finish and capitalize. Some stupid mistakes here and there and turnovers and not making the right reads and things caught up to us. We couldn’t finish. We couldn’t get over the hump.
“They did a good job of reading where the ball was going to go and then flying there.”
L-B’s defense, which had given up only 31 points all season heading into the final, played a solid game as well. The Eagles limited Ursuline to just 37 yards on 22 plays in the first half, which ended with the teams tied 0-0. Minus a three-play drive that yielded 74 yards and a 60-yard TD run by Allen Jones to start the second half, the Irish managed just 78 yards in 40 plays against the Eagles (an average of 1.95 yards per play).
L-B, which had a school record 10 shutouts this season, was allowing just 113.5 yards per game coming into the championship.
Jones led the Irish with 97 hard-earned yards on 17 carries. Combined, Ursuline’s quarterbacks – Dawalyn Harper and Paul Kempe – were just 2-of-9 for 28 yards and two interceptions. The Irish were 2-for-11 on third downs and had just eight first downs. Ursuline was penalized one time.
“I thought it was going to be like a 54-52 barnburner,” Reardon said. “There were some things I thought we could take advantage of heading into the game against their defense and clearly we weren’t as successful as we thought we were going to be.
“Neither of us did much on offense either way.”
L-B’s offense had more yards than Ursuline (241-152) but couldn’t crack the end zone. Twice the Eagles ventured inside Ursuline’s 10-yardline only to be denied points. Craft was stopped on fourth and inches from the 4-yardline in the second quarter and L-B missed a field goal from the 7-yardine in the fourth. The Eagles ran 22 more plays than the Irish and led in time of possession 28:14-19:46.
Craft finished the game 18-of-27 for 152 yards. He also rushed a game-high 26 times for 49 yards.
“I’ve never faced pressure like that,” Craft said. “They’ve got some big name guys over there who lived up to the hype. We heard about them all week and tried to attack them but they came up and made more plays than we did.”
Said L-B head coach Tim Nichols: “Against a team like that you don’t get many opportunities. When we had some they didn’t go our way.”