AUSTINTOWN - The Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary Fighting Irish are one of the best high school football teams in any of Ohio's six divisions.
If you don't believe so, just ask Irish coach Dan Boarman. He'll tell you without hesitation.
"We've got kids that can play football," Boarman said after the Irish defeated the Hubbard Eagles, 54-14, in a Division III, Region 9 semifinal Saturday at Falcon Stadium. "I've told them all year that the only people that are going to beat them are themselves. When we come out and execute and do the things like we're capable of, we can play football."
Tribune Chronicle / Michael Taylor
Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary’s Parris Campbell Jr. runs the ball down deep into Hubbard territory where he was forced out by Hubbard’s Brandon Harb.
If it's true that speed kills, then the Irish should have been arrested. There were times when it looked more like a track meet than a football game as several of the Irish broke off long gainers.
Leading the way was 5-foot-8, 145-pound senior receiver Fransohn Bickley, who scored four first-half touchdowns and had a 60-yard punt return for what have been another touchdown negated by a penalty. Bickley had seven receptions for 143 yards, at times looking like a pinball darting through obstacles in the secondary.
"It was like a dream almost," Eagles linebacker Tyler Kornenyi-Both said. "It felt like we were always a step behind them. They had the one step of speed that we didn't have."
The 10-2 Irish accumulated 562 yards of offense (263 on the ground and 299 on a 16-of-20, six-touchdown passing effort by quarterback Clayton Uecker). They scored on seven of their first eight possessions. Their only punt in the first half occurred on the final play of the second quarter.
"A lot of speed and their offense is pretty fast-paced," Eagles coach Brian Hoffman said. "They say speed kills, and it was evident. They're quick. They got the ball in space and they made some big plays. Actually our corner had good coverage on the first touchdown in the first quarter and he (Bickley) still made a big play.
"From our end, bittersweet. Getting to the second round was something we're proud of, but it wasn't the way to end the season, obviously."
Uecker threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to Bickley on the Irish's first possession. Bickley was on the receiving end of a 14-yard Uecker scoring pass on St. Vincent's next possession as the lead grew to 12-0.
The Eagles (8-4) made it a 7-0 game on a 12-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Brandon Harb to Darnell Tate and the extra point.
It was all Irish the rest of the game. Bickley added touchdowns on passes covering 5 and 68 yards. Parris Campbell Jr. scored on a 4-yard run, and Mike Pruiett broke loose on a 75-yard touchdown run as the Irish took a 40-7 halftime lead. Campbell's score was set up when Eric Prologo intercepted a Harb pass at the Eagles' 5.
St. Vincent added touchdowns on a 33-yard pass from Uecker to Jordan Hargrove and an 18-yard Uecker pass to Corey Whaley. The Eagles concluded the scoring on a 3-yard run by Larry Scott, who rushed for 142 yards on 29 carries.
Hubbard managed 234 yards of offense but was never able to move the ball consistently. Scott had to work hard for every yard against a defense that was as quick as the Irish's offense.
"We did a nice job of slowing him down," Boarman said. "He got a few yards here and there."
Harb tried to get outside a few times but couldn't turn the corner against the speed of the defense.
"They were one of the quickest teams I've ever played," Harb said. "Just the angle to get on them was really hard. Obviously, you can see that in the outcome of the score."
St. Vincent plays Chagrin Falls Saturday in the Region 9 final.