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Ursuline playing ‘very well’

Cuyahoga Heights knows it needs to play near perfect game to defeat Irish

November 9, 2012
By JOE SIMON - Tribune Chronicle correspondent ( , Underthelights

As Cuyahoga Heights coach Al Martin talked about what his team needed to do in order to beat Ursuline on Saturday in the second round of the Division V, Region 17 playoffs, the phrase "very well" kept coming up.

The 16-year coach said the Redskins are going to have to block "very well." On defense, they're going to have to tackle "very well." And on offense, they must execute (you guessed it) "very well" to knock off the Irish.

In other words, Cuyahoga Heights is going to have its work cut out for it at 7 p.m. Saturday at Copley High School as it squares off against the Irish, winners of three of the last four Division V state championships.

Article Photos

Tribune Chronicle file photo / R. Michael Semple
Ursuline’s Tramain Thigpen scores a touchdown during an Aug. 24 game against East at Rayen Stadium in Youngstown. Saturday, Ursuline travels to Copley to play Cuyahoga Heights in a Division V, Region 17 semifinal.

But that doesn't mean the Redskins (10-1) are backing down. They're coming off a 42-14 thrashing of Bellaire and are loaded with offensive threats, especially at wide receiver, where four different players have at least 235 yards receiving and five have at least one touchdown catch.

Martin said his team will need more of the same against an Ursuline team that possesses a wealth of talent.

"They've always been a physical team on both sides of the ball," Martin said of Ursuline, which has beaten the Redskins twice in the postseason during Martin's tenure. "So, we're going to have to block very well to give our skill kids a chance to make some plays. We've got some good skill kids who can make some plays, but up front it's going to be important for our kids to hold their own."

The battle in the trenches is one that appears to favor Ursuline (7-4). Martin said Cuyahoga Heights is rather undersized up front, averaging around 5-foot-9, 190 pounds, and while the Irish have what first-year coach Larry Kempe called "the smallest offensive line since I've been at Ursuline," that doesn't mean they're not talented.

"They do a very good job of knowing their assignments and locking on to people," Kempe said. "When they lock on to people, you're not going to get off them. They're very tenacious in regards to what they're doing."

That leaves a lot of running room for the three-headed attack coming out of the backfield. The Irish have three players with at least 700 yards rushing. Running back Tramain Thigpen leads the pack with 798 yards and 14 touchdowns on 115 carries. Quarterback Chris Durkin isn't far behind with 778 yards and nine TDs on 131 carries, and running back Jermaine Williams fills out the trio with 14 touchdowns and 718 yards on 118 carries.

The part that really makes life tough on Martin and the Redskins is that Durkin is an accomplished passer as well, completing 78 of 132 passes for 1,100 yards and seven touchdowns. He was especially sharp in the Irish's 64-48 victory over Garaway last week, connecting on 9 of 15 passes for 213 yards (that's an average of 23.6 yards per completion).

"The problem is they spread you out and he can throw it if you don't cover well, and they're really hard to bring down one-on-one," Martin said. "If you cover out, then they run the ball at you very effectively. They really do a nice job schematically."

Cuyahoga Heights has its own stellar signal-caller in 6-0, 170-pound junior Jordan Martin. The dual-threat quarterback has completed 123 of 192 passes for 1,804 yards and 24 touchdowns. He also leads the team in rushing with 470 yards and seven touchdowns.

"He's got good speed, and he runs the offense very well," Kempe said. "They've got a tight end who's a very good athlete, and they've got a bruiser at fullback, too."

The tight end is 6-1, 170-pound Jason Kleppel (23 catches, 313 yards, four TDs). He's also the Redskins' top defender. The reigning Chagrin Valley Conference defensive player of the year has 94 tackles, including 13 for losses, from the linebacker position. The "bruiser" is 5-10, 185-pound senior running back Shane McNeilly. He's garnered 381 and nine touchdowns on 94 attempts. At receiver, Tyler Gallo leads the team with 45 receptions for 593 yards and 10 touchdowns, including two last week, and there are plenty of others. Jack Alpert is third in catches (21) and second in yards (421) and touchdowns (7), and Trenton Gallo's reeled in 18 catches for 252 yards and three touchdowns.

Overall, it's a rather balanced attack for the Redskins, but after giving up 385 yards and five touchdowns through the air last week, Kempe said he expects Cuyahoga Heights to test the Irish's pass defense.

"I think they do a good enough job coaching that they're going to take advantage of what they think the weakness is of their opponent," he said. "We changed some things. You have to change according to who you're playing. We went to a lot of man coverage (last week). They had 2 yards of offense in the first quarter, and we were up, 30-0, but we lost contain, and a very good quarterback took advantage of us. We didn't play strong man coverage. So there's a combination of things we're working on right now."

The Irish certainly have history on their side, with postseason wins of 47-28 in 2009 (regional finals) and 27-7 in 2008 (first round) over Cuyahoga Heights. But old victories won't help Ursuline on Saturday, Kempe said. What he's banking on is a team that's learned how to win after a rough stretch midway through the season in which the Irish lost three straight. He said those times helped bring this closer.

"The kids have grown together," he said. "They've matured together, and they understand what we want them to do. I'm very proud of our players because they've bought into the system that the coaching staff had set out for them, and I'm happy for their success."