AURORA - With 8 seconds remaining in the game and his team down one point, Ursuline coach Larry Kempe had no doubts about going for two.
The Fighting Irish offense engineered a 14-play, 65-yard touchdown drive to pull within one point against Kirtland in the Division V, Region 17 final, and Kempe opted to go for the win instead of sending it to overtime.
The Luck of the Irish ran out on Ursuline, as the Hornets stuffed a Christopher Durkin run short of the goal line.
Tribune Chronicle / Michael Taylor
Ursuline’s Tannor Berry breaks the tackle of Kirtland’s Evan Brettrager on a fourth-and-5 from the Kirtland 6 during Saturday’s Division V, Region 17 final in Aurora.
"No doubt that we're going to go for two," Kempe said. "I'd do it again."
The failed two-point conversation sealed a second half collapse by the Irish, losing 38-37 to Kirtland (13-0) after leading by 24 points at halftime.
"Hopefully, our kids learn how that you got to play four quarters," Kempe said. "We didn't play four quarters tonight, and that came back and bit us.
"In the first half, we had the momentum. In the second half, they took the momentum, and that's our fault for giving that up."
The game was a tale of two halves, with Ursuline (8-5) taking charge in the first 24 minutes.
Ursuline jumped all over Kirtland (13-0), starting on the team's opening drive. The Irish went 64 yards on 11 plays, mostly through Durkin's legs. The junior quarterback gashed the Hornets defense for 59 yards before Tramain Thigpen capped off the drive with a 13-yard touchdown run, in which the running back dragged a few defenders into the end zone with him.
Throughout the first half, the Fighting Irish defense clamped down on the Hornets, forcing Kirtland into three three-and-outs and no first downs. The Hornets gained a whopping 23 yards of total offense, and because of it, Ursuline won the field position battle, with the average start at Kirtland's 40-yard line.
"In the first half, we looked like the worst team in the world," Kirtland coach Tiger Laverde said.
Although Kirtland looked awful in the first half, the Hornets erased a 24-point deficit with relative ease in the second half.
By the 2:16 mark in the third quarter, the Hornets scored three touchdowns and converted three two-point conversions to pull within six points of Ursuline.
"I have three two-point conversions that are going to work," Laverde said. "We're down three scores, and we're going to make them. These boys played their tails off. I'm so proud of them."
After only 23 yards on the ground in the first half, Kirtland's ground game gained steam and yardage in the second half, rushing for 250 yards in the second half.
The Fighting Irish had no answer for the power running game. Running back Adam Hess had 95 yards himself, mostly by pounding right up the middle of the Ursuline defense. The inside running attack opened up the option plays for Eilerman later in the half, which included a 39-yard touchdown run with 8:45 remaining in the game to give Kirtland its first lead of the game.
"Everything we do, it's all the (offensive) line," Hess said. "It's unbelieveable. We just got at it a lot harder. We go as they go.
"We've been looking at (Ursuline) since Week 1," Hess said. "We knew that (this game) was going to happen. Nothing better."
The Irish, meanwhile, shot themselves in the foot throughout the game, accumulating 15 penalties for 156 yards. Nine of those penalties came in the second half, stalling drives. Many of the penalties were person fouls after the play had finished.
"There are a lot of penalties in the game," Kempe said. "If somebody's doing the stats, you'll find out the differential is something like maybe (15-3). I'm not going to make a comment about that but strange."
Still, despite the loss, Kempe said he's proud of his team, especially his seniors. After missing out on the playoffs last year, his team turned it around to go to the regional finals.
"I'm proud of our nine seniors," he said. "Our nine seniors did an outstanding job for us all year. We're going to miss them next year."