After a shaky first series, the Pios adjusted to the Vikings spread offense and took over defensively. A couple of big plays later, Coach Lewis Cook had a much better feeling about his team’s final tune up before the regular season opener.
“Our kids just needed to adjust to the tempo of the game and what they were doing to get things up to the speed of the game. We came out here, the weather forced us into the indoor facility for warm-ups and we were a little late getting out and back down the tunnel, so it was just a matter of kind of getting back in synch.”
Northside opened the game at UL-Lafayette’s Cajun field with an 11 play drive covering 65 yards to the Pios’ 10 yard line. Quarterback Chris Ozene completed a 14 yard pass to wide receiver Clarence Kelly on the first play of the possession and a 22-yard third down hookup to move past midfield.
A third down pass interference and a third completion for the senior duo had the Pios reeling in the red zone. The Notre Dame secondary responded to force three straight incompletions and halt the scoring threat.
Notre Dame showed some offensive spark on its second series when fullback Austin Thibodeaux plowed over and through defenders for a 22-yard run into Vikings territory. Northside stiffened and neither team would threaten again in the first half.
“They were running their linebackers through and that usually doesn’t happen that much. In the second half we decided to do a few different things and started getting on them and popping some holes for our backs.”
Nicholas Benoit set the Pios up with a 35 yard kickoff return to start the second half. The Pios offensive line provided some daylight for senior runningback Luke Broussard to gain 11 yards off the right side and follow with a 10 yard burst around the left corner.
Sophomore quarterback Brad Stoma threw his only pass of the night down the middle of the field for Benoit and a completion of 33 yards to the Northside nine. Thibodeaux went straight ahead for four yards and Broussard finished the drive with a five yard push off left guard for the first score of the game and a 7-0 lead.
“That catch Nick made was really big for us,” noted Cook. “That set us up down there where we were able to finish the drive and knock it in to get on the board first. Then Gavin kind of finished it off with the interception.”
Viking quarterback Chris Ozene completed seven of his first 12 passes, but the Pios defense was ready for his third down attempt over the middle. Gavin Bourgeois came across from the right side and stepped in front of the pass at the Northside 28 and outran pursuit for a pick-6 and a 13-0 lead.
Two plays later, the Notre Dame defense knocked the ball from Vikings tailback Mike Rubin and Pio Matt Venable recovered at the Northside 31 yard line. Ross Cullen took over at fullback and rambled 17 yards on first down. John Michael Besse capped the five play drive on a three yard touchdown run with just over seven minutes to play for a 19-0 lead.
“We just played much better in the second half,” added Cook. “We didn’t have any film this week so we just showed up kind of vanilla and not really sure of what to expect and by halftime we had a better idea of what was coming down.”
Northside turned to trickery on the ensuing kickoff and it backfired into a fumble and another turnover at the Vikings 16. Notre Dame ran six times with Ivey Robichaux getting the final carry and a one yard touchdown run for the 26-0 final score.
Notre Dame rushed for 127 yards led by the starting tandem of Luke Broussard (8-39) and Austin Thibodeaux (3-37). Ross Cullen (3-20) and John Michael Besse (3-13) also had quality carries for the ND running game.
The lone pass completion boosted the ND total offense to 160 yards on the night. Cook saw the single attempt as a product of the game and the eventual big lead.
“It was just the way the game went with us getting a touchdown on defense then another turnover. We had a pass planned and they get a kid hurt, so we didn’t want to throw it there after they have a kid get carted off. We were just running the ball to let the clock run out.”
The Notre Dame defense pressured and covered the Vikings spread offense into just one completion in the last 11 passes of the game. Northside got 91 of its 103 passing yards in the first half and just 18 total yards in the second half. The Vikings ran for just six yards on seven carries for 109 yards of total offense.
“The defense stood tall when they threatened and we didn’t let them get in there. They were able to make some adjustments, understood what coach was telling them and they couldn’t run it against us. That shows a lot for them.”
Notre Dame takes to the road for the season opener at Southwood. The Cowboys are reorganizing under a third head coach in as many seasons. The Pios won 43-6 last year in Crowley to start the season and will be looking for the same outcome when they travel to Shreveport Friday night.
“We just need to keep going forward and emphasize to the kids it’s not so much about who it is you go against, it’s about how much better can we get from this week. For me, from the scrimmage to the first game is where the most improvement is made. So, if we’re not better next week, then we have taken a step back. It is a long road trip and it will help us down the line to see how we handle that. There is a lot of factors that I think will help us in the long run.”