Irish green prevails
BELOIT — West Branch fell behind early but staged a furious second-half rally that came up just short in a 38-31 Division IV playoff loss to Youngstown Ursuline in Clinton Heacock Stadium Saturday night.
In what turned into an offensive shootout, the Warriors trailed 24-6 at halftime but outscored the Irish 25-14 in the second half. West Branch had a chance after pulling with within seven points of Ursuline when Warrior quarterback Brock Hillyer scored on a 1-yard run, making it 38-31 with just 2:43 left in the game.
But West Branch’s ensuing onside kick was recovered by the Irish who ran out the clock for the hard-earned win.
“I’m real proud of them,” said West Branch head coach Ken Harris of his team’s strong comeback effort. “They fought their tails off.”
With the triumph, sixth-seeded Ursuline (6-2) advances to a D4 regional semifinal next Saturday night against the second-seeded Poland Bulldogs at 7 p.m. in Poland. Poland defeated Chagrin Falls Saturday night to advance.
“It was a hard-hitting football game and we’re happy to be moving on,” said Ursuline head coach Dan Reardon. “We knew the game wasn’t over at halftime. When you get this deep (in the playoffs) you’re going to be playing good football teams and you find a way to win and advance.”
West Branch lost for the first time in eight games.
“We knew we had to play an absolutely perfect game and give credit to Ursuline – they are a very, very good football team,” praised Harris.
The two teams combined for 895 yards of total offense, including 484 for the Irish and 411 for West Branch.
The loss spoiled a great comeback effort by West Branch senior quarterback Brock Hillyer who completed 16 of 34 passes for 258 yards and three touchdowns. He also rushed for a team-high 112 yards and scored a rushing touchdown.
“They (the Warriors) are a very, very good offensive football team,” praised Reardon. “They have a quarterback and I have a ton of respect for that kid. He has ability to make plays with his feet and with good throws and they have a really good receiving core and running back.”
While West Branch did its damage through the air, Ursuline rushed for 339 yards, led by running backs DeMarcus McElroy (139 yards), Terrell Dillworth (76 yards and two touchdowns) and Dante Walker (75 yards and two touchdowns, including one on offense and another on a pick six).
Ursuline disrupted West Branch’s passing game early by putting 10 and 11 defenders within five yards of the line of scrimmage and blitzing Hillyer who was sacked four times in the first half.
Ursuline led in total offense, 260-167 at halftime and West Branch had a punt blocked and gave up a pick six.
After blocking a West Branch punt at the Warriors’ 30, Ursuline capitalized when quarterback Brady Shannon hit receiver Matthew Reardon with a 6-yard scoring pass. The Irish also converted the two-point conversion on a direct snap on a swinging gate that went from Reardon to running back DeMarcus McElroy, making 8-0 at the 7:01 mark of the first quarter.
“We spend a ton of time on special teams,” said Reardon. “Getting the blocked punt early in the game was huge for us. Any time you can get a blocked punt and a defensive score on an interception it’s big, and those ended up being the difference in the game,”
The Irish went up 16-0 at the 10:52 mark of the second quarter when running back Terrell Dillworth outraced everyone around the right side on a 64-yard run. Ursuline added the two-point conversion on a run up the middle by Reardon.
West Branch got on the board on its fourth possession of the first half, marching 75 yards and scoring on a two-yard look-in pass from quarterback Brock Hillyer to receiver Dru DeShields. West Branch’s two-point conversion try failed and the Warriors trailed 16-6 at the 5:19 mark of the second quarter.
After stopping the Irish offense, West Branch set up shop deep in its own territory and Hillyer’s pass over the middle was intercepted by Ursuline linebacker Dante Walker who took it 27 yards to the end zone. Ursuline again added the two-point conversion on a pass from Shannon to McElroy, making it 24-6.
But West Branch began to gain momentum in the second half.
“We had to adjust to the speed of the game,” said Harris. “I’m really proud of everything these guys have accomplished and this is not going to take away from that.”
West Branch closed the gap on the first play of the second half when Alek Wilson intercepted a flat pass and raced 37 yards to score. West Branch’s two-point conversion pass failed and the Warriors trailed 24-12 at the 11:45 mark of the third quarter.
Ursuline answered on its ensuing possession when quarterback Brady Shannon arched a 38-yard scoring strike to Dante Walker. The Irish added the PAT on a pass from Shannon to Reardon, making it 32-12.
West Branch closed the deficit to 32-19 when Hillyer connected with Dr DeShields on a 13-yard scoring strike and Ben Tolson added the PAT kick, making it 32-19 at the 7:43 mark of the thirird.
Ursuline scored its final touchdown, making it 38-19 when Dillworth went five yards up the middle. However, West Branch scored the final two touchdowns in the fourth quarter on an 11-yard pass from Hillyer to Nick Wilson and a one-yard run by Hillyer which gave them a chance late.
• West Branch’s David McKeiver became the school’s all-time leading receiver during the game. The old record of 110 receptions was held by Kyle Linhart. McKeivir caught five passes for 64 yards and now has 115 receptions in his career.
• Saturday marked the first time West Branch and Youngstown Ursuline have ever played in football.
• West Branch is hoping to play at Beaver Local next Friday night in a regular-season game but the Beavers game this past Friday night was canceled due to Covid 19, so West Branch will find out Sunday if their game with the Beavers is on.
“I don’t know how that’s going to work,” said Harris. “Tomorrow we’ll find out. (Beaver Local) is who is on the schedule and they (Beaver Local) are going to let us know.”
WEST BRANCH: 0-6-13-12– 31
URS — Luke Campbell, 6 pass from Matthew Reardon, 7:01 1st (DeMarcus McElroy pass from Matthew Reardon)
URS — Terrell Dillworth, 64 run, 10:52 2nd (Matthew Reardon run)
WB — Dru DeShields, 2 pass from Brock Hillyer, 5:19 2nd (run failed)
URS — Dante Walker, 27 interception return, 2:41 2nd (DeMarcus McElroy pass from Brady Shannon)
WB — Alek Wilson, 37 interception return, 11:45 3rd (pass failed)
URS — Dante Walker, 38 pass from Brady Shannon, 10:20 3rd (Matthew Reardon pass from Brady Shannon)
WB — Dru DeShields, 13 pass from Brock Hillyer, 7:43 3rd (Ben Tolson kick)
URS –Terrell Dillworth, 5 run, 5:05 3rd (pass failed)
WB — Nick Wilson, 11 pass from Brock Hillyer, 9:20 4th (pass failed)
WB — Brock Hillyer, 1 run, 2:45 4th (kick failed)
First downs 19 22
Total yards 484 411
Rushes-yards 38-339 32-153
Passing 145 258
Comp-Att-Int 10-18-2 16-34-2
Punts 2-37 3-35
Fumbles-Lost 1-0 0-0
Penalties-Yards 8-81 4-45
RUSHING – Ursuline, Brady Shannon 3-18, Terrell Dillworth 4-76, DeMarcus McElroy 16-139, Dante Walker 7-75, Ryan Pegues 1-30; West Branch, Alek Wilson 7-34, Brock Hillyer 23-112
PASSING – Ursuline, Brady Shannon 10-18-145-2-2; West Branch, Brock Hillyer 16-34-268-3-2
RECEIVING – Ursuline, Matthew Reardon 5-78, Dante Walker 2-38, Terrell Dillworth 2-18, Luke Campbell 1-6; West Branch, David McKeiver 5-64, Nick Wilson 5-40, Jaxon Hendershott 1-18, Dru DeShields 5-67, Alek Wilson 4-24, INTERCEPTIONS – Ursuline, Dante Walker, John John Edmonds; West Branch, Alex Wilson, Jed Smith
FUMBLE RECOVERIES – Ursuline, none; West Branch, none.