Well, St. Charles ended up getting a few more surprises than they could handle and Notre Dame assured there will be a new state champ in 3A this year with a 27-7 win.
“Those guys tasted the Dome last year and they wanted to go back,” said ND Coach Lewis Cook. “You can’t tell them they don’t have the talent of last season. Our guys matched their intensity and fought as hard as they fought.”
Pios quarterback Brad Stoma completed 12-of-15 passes for 157 yards and a touchdown. The sophomore also picked up 20 yards on two QB designed runs.
“You have to be a two sided team if you want to win it all,” noted Stoma. “If the other team stops the run, you have to be able to throw it. Our offensive line keeps us in the game and we just haven’t needed it, but we are confident we can pass.”
Receiver Brandon Leger caught five of those passes for 66 yards. Three of his catches were for third down conversions.
“Several of those plays were not actually designated for me,” noted the senior receiver. “You have to stay with it and Brad did a good job of keeping the play alive, rolling away from pressure and finding the open guy. It was great to get the chance to have that kind of game.”
Austin Thibodeaux carried 12 times for 91 yards and two scores. The senior also caught three passes for 33 yards.
“They gave us a little trouble at first because they knew what we were doing,” said Thibodeaux. “When we would set, they were calling the play. So, we knew we had to get the pass going, but we also knew we needed to run to control the clock.”
The Pios defense returned to form, shutting down St. Charles to the tune of 128 total yards. The Comets netted just 53 yards on the ground and 75 in the air. St. Charles made only eight first downs and could convert only 4-of-11 third down plays.
“You do what you need to do,” stated Pios coach Cook. “We knew we would have to mix it up a great deal more because they are such a solid defensive team. Last week, Westlake ran the ball on them in the first half, but I knew it wasn’t going to be that way on their field.”
The defenses were able to keep the advantage in a fast played scoreless first quarter. St. Charles stacked the box with seven and eight to take away the edge and hamper the Pios running game. The Comets apparently watched the films of last week and Notre Dame struggled to defend an uncharacteristic St. Charles passing game.
Comets QB Austin Weber completed his first two passes, but WR Chad McNeil dropped his third reception at mid field to force a punt. The Comets moved to the Pios 40 on their second series and linebacker Hunter Stelly knocked down a third down pass to end the drive.
“We stayed in our base defense and didn’t really change anything even though they were throwing a little more than expected,” commented Stelly, who finished with 11 tackles in the game. “We were fortunate a couple of times when they didn’t complete the catch, but we prepared to stop their run and we were able to do that. Then we settled in and had a pretty good game.”
The Notre Dame offense took over from there, driving 80 yards in 14 plays to start the second quarter and grab a 7-0 lead. Stoma and Leger started their magic with a third down completion for 18 yards to begin the march.
On the next play, John Michael Besse found a seam off the right side for an 18-yard run and a first down at the comets 42. After a holding penalty pushed the Pios back to mid field, Stoma connected with Ross Cullen flaring out of the backfield for 12 yards.
Two plays later, Stoma went back to Cullen, this time over the middle for another 12-yard pick-up down to the St. Charles 25. On fourth and eleven at the 26, Austin Thibodeaux gathered in a middle screen and rambled to the nine.
Thibodeaux gained eight on first and goal and took it in on the next play. Dustin Reiners added the extra point with 5:18 left in the quarter.
After the defense forced a quick three and punt, the Pios took over at their 15 with 4:07 to go in the half. Notre Dame converted 5-of-7 third down plays in the first half and none were any bigger than a 14-yard pass completion from Stoma to Cullen for a first down at the Pios 45.
“Brad was 0-for-8 last week and I told him during the week things were going to be different this game,” explained Cook. “I told him he would have a good week because he would have some guys that would have some space to catch the ball in if he could get it there and he did.”
On the next play, Stoma had Brandon Leger deep down the right sideline, but was forced from the pocket and scrambled right. Leger broke back toward his QB and Stoma threw on the run for an 18-yard completion at the St. Charles 37.
“I was able to get behind the secondary, but Brad had to run out,” noted Leger. “When I saw him, I broke back up the sideline and Brad made a good throw on the run for the first down.”
Luke Broussard picked up three yards and Stoma went right back to Leger for a 14-yard gain with less than a minute to go in the half.
From the St. Charles 20, Pios QB Stoma lofted a pass to junior WR Kevin Frank on a corner post route to the right side of the end zone. Frank made his first catch of the season a memorable one, dragging both feet at the sideline for a touchdown with 42 seconds to go.
“I was so excited that I don’t remember much about the catch other than rolling over and seeing the official signaling touchdown. That was actually my first career catch, so it was a pretty special feeling in a game this big to be able to contribute. It was just exciting.”
Dustin Reiners booted the extra point and the Pios took a 14-0 lead into the locker room.
“Once we got a couple of plays to get it going we felt if we could get a couple of first downs we could go into the half with the lead,” said Cook about the half ending score. “Then we got to the middle of the field and said let’s see if we can take it in. To drive it down there and put it in right before the half I thought might have been the difference in the game for us.”
Having deferred the coin toss, Notre Dame looked to have the momentum fully in their hands taking the second half kickoff and picking up a couple of first downs. St. Charles had other thoughts, blocking a Notre Dame punt and recovering at the Pios 36.
St. Charles needed 10 plays to capitalize on the short field and three cracks at the end zone from the Pios one. Tailback Brandon Zimmer got the score on third and goal to cut the Notre Dame lead in half at 14-7.
“We knew they were good at that and we worked more time on it this week than ever before and they still got it,” explained Cook. “We were able to turn the field back on them and didn’t let it get to us.”
The Comets, who had rallied from a 19-point halftime deficit at Westlake last week, appeared on track for a repeat when a third down sack of Pios QB Stoma got the ball back for St. Charles in less than a minute.
The Notre Dame defense said not this week!
Hunter Stelly dropped RB Erron Lewis for a yard loss on first down. QB Weber was sacked on second down by Matt Venable and Kipp Credeur, who led the Pios with 13 tackles. DE Nate Link dropped the Comets QB for a 6-yard loss with a third down sack. End of discussion!
It was much the same on the next possession after Dustin Reiners rolled a punt to the Comets eight. Clint Reiners forced a third down fumble for a five yard loss and the Pios got a short field on the return punt.
The Pios offense kicked into gear with Luke Broussard gaining four from the St. Charles 46 and Brad Stoma keeping around the left side for seven. Stoma hit Austin Thibodeaux for a 7-yard completion and then again swept left for 13 yards and first down at the Comets 15.
With third and six at the St. Charles 11, Brad Stoma threw a quick out to Brandon Leger, the senior receiver turned it up the field, eyed the sticks and got the first down at the five.
Thibodeaux gained four to the one and Stoma dove in for the score. ND didn’t convert the PAT and led 20-7.
“Thib came up big for us on the drive to get us to twenty,” added Cook. “That score was a huge factor in the outcome of the game. We were controlling the ball and to get that cushion with the way our defense was playing felt pretty comfortable.”
Aside from the 36-yard scoring drive after the blocked punt, St. Charles gained just 23 yards the rest of the second half against the Pios defense. Clint Faul broke up a fourth down pass and the Pios took over at the Comets 38 with 3:19 to play.
Austin Thibodeaux broke three tackles and ran over defenders for 34 yards on first down. On third and goal from the one, Thib plowed in for his second score to seal the win.
“We came up with some big plays when we had to have them,” summed up Cook. “I thought that was the difference.”
Notre Dame will host district foe Iowa Friday. The Yellow Jackets, seeded #26, knocked off North Vermilion last week, 28-17.