Ursuline defeated Kirtland in two prior postseason meetings, in 2010 and 2008, en route to winning three consecutive Division V state championships.
The Hornets hope the third time is the charm as the two teams play again, Saturday at 7 p.m. at Aurora Veterans Stadium for the Region 17 title.
Ursuline (8-4) coach Larry Kempe was a part of all three of those state titles as defensive coordinator. He was an assistant for 38 total seasons before getting his first chance as a head coach this year.
"I have a great coaching staff and that's very important," he said. "Our guys work very hard. I'm blessed to be with a great group of kids that work hard to be successful at football."
In last week's regional semifinal against Cuyahoga Heights, the Irish only led 16-6 at halftime before using a 28-point third quarter to blow the game open in a 44-15 victory.
"What happened in the first half was they converted a couple third down plays and a fourth down play to keep ball out of our hands," Kempe said. "When we got the ball we knew we were going to be in good shape. It was only a matter of time before we got the ball. We stepped up both offensively and defensively."
Kirtland coach Phillip Laverde said Ursuline will be his team's toughest game this season by far.
"They're one of the better teams in the state, regardless of division," he said. "They have a lot of talent, much more than anybody we've faced. They're a tough challenge for sure.
"Pretty much everybody. Everybody on the team has to play well (for Kirtland to win). We have to tackle well and keep their offense off the field. Their quarterback (Chris Durkin) is terrific and (Tramaine) Thigpen is a good runner. They certainly can play with anybody in the state."
Ursuline had a total of 475 yards against Cuyahoga Heights. Jermaine Williams led the way with 183 yards rushing and Thigpen added 84 and the duo combined for three second-half touchdowns.
On the season, Williams paces the Irish with 918 yards and 15 TDs and Thigpen has 894 yards and 16 scores. Also in the offensive backfield is Durkin, who has a total of 2,071 yards and 18 touchdowns passing and rushing.
"Offensively, Chris Durkin, Jermaine Williams and Tramaine Thigpen," Kempe said of the players he needs to get top performances out of on Saturday. "Wide outside, there's (receiver) Shawn Cole (12 catches, 231 yards, three TDs) and up front (lineman) Khallid Pierce (6-foot-1, 205 pounds). Those guys do a great job."
Ursuline got off to a 3-0 start this season, but then had a three-game skid in the middle of the season before recovering to win three straight games to make the playoffs.
"During the losing streak, one thing we saw was we played very good competition," Kempe said. "Cleveland St. Edward, Zanesville and Erie Cathedral Prep, out of those three they only have one loss their whole year. We started playing more like a team instead of like individuals on a team."
Kirtland has rolled to a 12-0 record this season. The Hornets are the defending Division V state champions and have won 27 consecutive games - "We've been very fortunate," Laverde said - with Ursuline the last team to beat them. They easily defeated Crestview 28-14 last week at Mollenkopf Stadium.
"Crestview is a very, very good football team," Laverde said. "There's a reason they were 11-0 and made it that far. I'm real proud of my kids. They controlled the line of scrimmage and ran the ball for 300-some yards. They played keep away from their high scoring offense and keep them off the field."
"They have a nice running game," Kempe said of the Hornets. "The (Damon) Washington kid is a very good running back. To me, they have a number of good runners. Their quarterback is not bad, the fullback can run the ball. They can also throw the ball. They're more of a run team, but they can throw the ball."
Washington leads the way for the powerful Kirtland offense. The 6-foot, 170-pound senior has 1,680 yards on only 123 carries (a 13.7-yard average) with 30 touchdowns. For good measure, he leads the Hornets with 18 catches for 331 yards and five more scores.
Kirtland has three other outstanding backfield members in Sammy Kukura (888 yards and 11 TDs), Adam Hess (725 yards, six touchdowns) and quarterback Scott Eilerman (57 of 120, 917 yards with 13 touchdowns and two interceptions, plus 538 yards rushing and four scores).
Defensively, the Hornets are paced by linemen Canon Schroeder and Evan Brettrager, and linebacker Josh Iammarino. While the offense has gotten most of the publicity this season (557 points scored and 484.2 yards per game), the defense has allowed only 134 points and 189.8 YPG.