Notre Dame held Iowa to 53 total yards of offense and scored just about every way possible in a 35-0 win Friday at Gardiner Memorial Stadium. What earlier this year was a competitive game when the teams met for the district lead was not anywhere close to that this time.
“The score is not really indicative of how well Iowa played on defense,” noted Pios coach Lewis Cook. “They kept a lot of guys around the line of scrimmage and made things tough for us, but we were able to hit a few passes and keep things going. What our defense did was unbelievable, especially for a quarterfinal game.”
The yards may not have come in big chunks, but Notre Dame started the game with two time consuming drives only to come away with no points. The Pios defense limited Iowa to minus yardage on its first two drives and Iowa faced fourth down at the Jackets 16 yard line.
There were puzzled looks throughout the stadium when the Pios called a timeout with 8 seconds left in the quarter. Iowa’s Austin Theriot lined up to punt near the goal line and those looks soon turned to cheers when Matt Venable shot through to block the punt.
“We didn’t set up anything special because we were playing punt block on every kick,” said Venable. “Coach just wanted us to make sure it was clean and not give them a chance to keep the ball. I slipped through the B gap between guard and tackle and was able to get a hand on it. We were hoping for a safety to get us on the board and it worked out even better.”
The blocked kick deflected into the end zone and Sam Veillon recovered to give the Pios a 6-0 lead with no time left in the quarter.
Venable teamed with Nate Link for a sack on the next Iowa possession after the Jackets had gained their only first down of the half. Iowa would get just 14 yards in the first two quarters.
“They ran a couple of long ones on us the first time we played and that probably made us take them a little more seriously since we did not want to let that happen again,” added Venable. “The blocked punt score got everyone hopped up and we wanted to keep it going.”
The Pios took over with 9:13 to play in the half for a classic Notre Dame drive of eight runs and two strategic passes. Ross Cullen powered for nine yards and a first down at the Pios 34. Two plays later, QB Brad Stoma completed a 12-yard third down pass to Luke Broussard in the right flat.
John Michael Besse got six yards on first down and another six on third down for a first down at the Jackets 39. Stoma faked into the middle and turned for a 36-yard pass to Nick Benoit for a first and goal at the Iowa three. Besse took it in on the next play for a 12-0 Pios lead with 4:59 left in the half.
“We were moving the ball, we just couldn’t finish the first drive,” explained Coach Cook. “That got us the score off the blocked punt which was huge for us. The drive before the half we were thinking let’s get a couple of first downs so they don’t get it back and our kids take it and drive it, finishing it with a score.”
That drive came when the Pios defense forced another three and out. Linebacker Hunter Stelly stopped Iowa RB Jordan Malbreaux for no gain on first down. The Jackets turned to the passing game on second down and Gavin Bourgeois tipped away a pass. On third down Clint Faul broke up another pass to force a punt.
Fullback Austin Thibodeaux turned the corner for 18 yards around the right side and all of a sudden the Pios were thinking score at the ND 47 with three minutes to play. Luke Broussard carried for eight and three yards for another first down at the Iowa 42.
QB Brad Stoma rolled right and connected with Brandon Leger on a deep out for 19 yards to the Iowa 23. Broussard swept the left side for 11 yards and a first down at the 12 and got five more on the next play.
From the Iowa seven, Stoma rolled right and hit Nick Benoit streaking left to right in the end zone for a score with 1:06 to go in the first half. Dustin Reiners added the PAT for a 19-0 lead.
Notre Dame never got to a third down on that drive, but Pios coach Lewis Cook came up with 6-of-7 conversions on play calls in the first half.
“That has kind of been our MO all year long. We didn’t want to throw it right out the chute. In the early going, you like to try and figure out what you might be able to get. We thought we could do that because they were jamming it up and we felt there were two or three things we could go to that if we don’t score we can still turn the field over on them.”
Iowa picked up more yardage on trick kickoff returns than on offense. The Jackets didn’t sniff mid field until Jordan Malbreaux returned the second half kick to the Pios 47. Jacket QB Austin Theriot gave his team a spark by scrambling for a first down to the Pios 29.
On first down from there, LB Hunter Stelly, who led the Pios with 11 tackles, teamed with tackle Sammie Graf to drop RB Chaz Key for a one yard loss. The Pios secondary forced a pair of pass incompletions and Notre Dame took over at their 26.
The Pios kept the ball for 14 plays and over 5 minutes and came up short on a fourth down play at the Iowa seven. The drive would pay off in points for the Pios defense two plays later.
From the Iowa five, QB Austin Theriot chased a bad snap into the Jackets end zone. His pass under pressure was ruled intentional grounding and the Pios scored a safety for a 21-0 lead.
“They got the good return to start the second half and we turned them away on fourth down,” reflected Cook. “We drove it down and didn’t score, but we used a lot of time and figured at that point the way our defense was playing them, they wouldn’t have enough time to come back and win it.”
On the ensuing kickoff, Nick Benoit gave the Pios a short field with a 23-yard return to the Iowa 41. Luke Broussard added to his 97-yard night, gaining 9 on first down and 6 on second for a first down at the Jackets 26.
Brousse then lined up in the slot and took a counter reverse 24 yards around the left side. Austin Thibodeaux powered in from the two and Dustin Reiners added the PAT to make it 28-0.
There would be no let up from the Pios defense. Iowa tried to duplicate the big running plays from week seven with no luck. The Jackets tried the passing game with even less luck.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Iowa had little choice than to go for it on fourth down at the Jackets 35 and down four scores. QB Austin Theriot threw down the middle and Sam Veillon tipped the pass away from the receiver to free safety Gavin Bourgeois who intercepted at the Pios 45.
“I just read the receivers and try to get where the ball is going,” smiled Bourgeois. “I was in the right place when Sam (Veillon) tipped it back and started back to the right side where I saw everyone peeling back to block. Hunter Stelly took out a guy on the edge and when I came around all I could see was the end zone. I was just thinking about getting there.”
That was pretty much the end of it. Iowa raised the white flag and the Pios sent their starters to the sideline.
“Our defense just swarmed all over them and kept after them hard all night,” said Cook. “To get the blocked punt and the interception return for a score, that’s 14 points without having the ball. I know Coach Mac worked hard on the defensive plan. I saw him scratching it out all week. When you have the whole week off, you have so much time to think and rethink, I just hoped we hadn’t over planned everything.”
As if the first three games weren’t enough of a challenge, Notre Dame now goes back on the road to #22 East Feliciana. The Tigers rallied for a 22-16 win at #14 Farmerville.
“We’ve only been at home twice for the semis and we lost one of those,” summed up Cook. “So, we’ve won on the road in the semis a lot of times. I know East Feliciana has some tremendous athletes, but if our guys can go to St. Charles and do what they did, we’ll get on the bus and try to get us another one.”