“We knew we would have to score because their offense is so good. Last week, we thought about doing that, but knew the St. Louis kicker would put it in the end zone. We got a little bit of a return and came out in the spread set just to kind of make them look around, then we popped a couple of good runs to put us out in front.”
The Pios offensive line set the stage for a 315 yard night on the ground, springing fullback Austin Thibodeaux for runs of 13 and 11 yards to the Panthers 29. Brad Stoma connected with Brandon Leger for 20 yards and a first down at the CHNI nine and Luke Broussard swept the right side for the score less than three minutes into the game.
“We felt our front would give us a chance to move the ball and hoped we wouldn’t have to rely on throwing it a bunch,” noted Cook. “We knew going into the year we would be a little bigger and next week we get a couple of guys back and hope to be able to get that depth back we had at the beginning of the year.”
Two possessions later, after a muffed punt went into the Pios end zone and was recovered by the Panthers for a touchback. Broussard took a first down handoff around the corner and went 80 yards for a 13-0 Pios lead.
“Our size up front is really opening some holes for us to run through and feeling healthy makes a difference in being able to finish the play,” said Broussard. “Our line is giving us some places to run and my knee is finally feeling good after a couple of months of trying to get to full strength.”
The Pios started the second quarter with a fourth and eight at the Panthers 29 yard line. Stoma found Nick Benoit down the middle for 23 yards and a first and goal from the six. Austin Thibodeaux took it in from a yard out for a 20-0 Pios lead.
On the ensuing CHNI series, QB Joe Lissard completed a 19 yard pass to Joe Dworaczyk on third and 13, but Hunter Stelly came up to make a ball jarring tackle and Marcus Garrett recovered the fumble for a Pios first down at the Panthers 36.
“Defensively, I thought we really played well in the first quarter and it gave us a chance to get out ahead,” said Cook. “We were without two starters and used some guys on defense that hadn’t played very much. So, for those guys to pick up in just a week of practice what they had to do and hold them to two scores, I’m proud of them.”
Notre Dame leaned on the O-line to keep it on the ground and scored in seven plays. Broussard covered the final yard for his second score and the Pios seemed easily in control with a 26-0 lead.
“We knew they weren’t going to go away,” added Cook. “They fight awful hard and do such a good job of getting ready to play. They have some tough kids.”
Lissard led the Panthers on an 80-yard scoring drive, aided by a personal foul and a roughing the passer penalty on the Pios defense. The senior QB capped the drive with a 22 yard scoring pass to Jason Pellerin on a fourth down play and hit Andre Bellafontaine for a 2-point conversion.
With the lead cut to 26-8, the Panthers forced a punt and a high snap turned the ball over to Lissard and the CHNI offense at the Pios eleven. Dworaczyk hauled in the 11-yard scoring pass on the next play and another 2-point conversion made it a 26-16 Pios lead with less than two minutes to the half.
“The way things were going, I have to say I was getting a little worried,” laughed Cook. “We were just trying to get a first down so we wouldn’t have to punt right before the half.”
Facing third and nine from the Pios 21, Austin Thibodeaux was called on to stop the bleeding. With a minute to go in the half, the senior fullback took it around left end, ran over a tackler and rumbled 79 yards for a touchdown.
“It was an off tackle play and Luke threw a great block on the edge so I popped it outside,” explained Thibodeaux. “When I came around and saw how open it was I just thought, wow, I’m going all the way. I just didn’t want to get caught from behind after everyone had done their job to put me in that position.”
The run put both Thibodeaux (127) and Broussard (130) over a hundred yards rushing in the first half. More importantly, it cushioned the Pios lead to 33-16 at intermission.
“That was really a huge play right before the half,” said Cook. “That team is really tough, they are young up front and the quarterback is standing in their bringing them back, so that was a great run that put us in a really good position when we needed it.”
Catholic High got the ball to start the second half and appeared on the way to making it a game again. Lissard kept the 12 play drive alive with a third down completion for 20 yards to Jason Pellerin near mid field.
On fourth down from the Pios three, and having used half the third quarter clock, Lissard forced a pass over the middle and ND’s Tyler Bender intercepted at the one. His 99-yard return for a touchdown turned the game for the final time.
“Obviously, it makes life a lot easier when you can score from eighty yards out,” Cook pointed out. “They are battling to get back in the game and you break a big play for a score in seconds, that’s a back breaker.”
Gavin Bourgeois intercepted the next Lissard pass and the Pios converted the turnover into their final points of the night. Luke Broussard gained 13 on a draw up the middle and Austin Thibodeaux made it back to back first downs with an 11-yard carry.
QB Brad Stoma connected with Ross Cullen for a 15 yard gain to the Panthers 14. After a holding penalty set the Pios back, Stoma found Broussard on a middle screen for 22 yards and first down at the CHNI three. Cullen took it in from there to make it 47-16 with 11:22 to play.
“The score is deceiving because you would think there is a domination there and it wasn’t,” Cook said. “Our backs were actually to the wall a bit and good teams step up. You keep putting them in a position where they have to make plays and hopefully something will happen in your favor.”
The Pios would break up four straight passes from the ND 20 to stop the Panthers next threat. After a fumble enabled CHNI to reach the Pios ten, Clint Faul ended the next drive with an interception, the third of the night off Lissard, who did complete 26-of-46 passes for 281 yards.
“I think we’ve taken the steps we needed to take and hopefully we’ll continue to grow as a team,” concluded Cook. ”We have a good Jennings team next week to start district, but I’m pleased with where we are right now and how we’ve gotten there.”