Luke Broussard ran for 145 yards and a touchdown to lead a 239 yard ground game. The Pios defense recorded four turnovers and got a score of their own as Notre Dame broke open a halftime tie for a 42-14 win.
“You have to prepare for so much because they give you so many looks and that’s why I like playing St. Louis because they scheme you,” explained Pios coach Lewis Cook. “They are always going to find something to get you and they do a good job with that. They gained the momentum at the end of the half, so the big question was how we were going to come out of the locker room for the second half. To see the team respond like that is very pleasing.”
The Pios took a 7-nothing lead midway through the first quarter after a big hit from Matt Venable forced a fumble. Nate Link recovered at the Saints 43 and the Pios completed an eleven play drive with Austin Thibodaux taking it in from two yards out.
St. Louis came right back behind the “one man show” of quarterback John Paul Crawford. The Saints totaled 180 yards of first half offense and Crawford had a hand in all but four of those yards, rushing for 59 and throwing for 117 with 12 completions on 16 passes.
From the Pios 39, Crawford sent his wide receiver in motion from left to right and when the Pios defense followed, the senior QB took the snap in the shotgun and ran left to a wide open field for 36 yards and a first and goal at the Notre Dame three. Crawford capped the 10-play, 64-yard drive by sneaking in from the one with four minutes to go in the half.
“We were getting caught looking in the backfield and being over anxious in the first half,” added Cook. “I think our inexperience was showing a little on the defensive side. We have eight guys out there that are growing up as the games go on. We did the same thing last week, gave up fourteen, then we get the guys settled down a bit and we start having our moments.”
Luke Broussard got his big night off to a blazing start on the next possession. After Austin Thibodeaux slammed through for 13 yards on a third and two, the Pios offensive line opened a gap wide enough to drive the equipment truck through and Broussard accelerated past defenders for a 59 yard touchdown run to get the lead back at 14-7.
“Luke has been battling a bit of a knee injury and it’s getting better every week,” said Cook. “Last week he broke the long run and got the ball knocked out, but my thoughts were I’m glad to be able to see him run like that and he’s getting stronger every week. You know, he’s a little guy, but he carries people with him sometimes and he hadn’t been doing that. Tonight he looked like he is starting to get that little push back like he had last year. ”
St. Louis took advantage of a muffed punt to keep a drive going at the Pios forty. The deck appeared stacked when an attempted flea flicker gone bad resulted in Crawford scrambling past an aggressive ND defense for 13 yards and a first down. From inside the Pios ten, linebacker Hunter Stelly halted the threat with a jarring tackle on Crawford to force a fumble recovered by Clint Faul with two minutes left in the half.
Unable to push it out for a first down, Notre Dame punted and St. Louis took over with 49 seconds left at the ND 40. Crawford completed a 19 yard pass to DaKeinen Francois down the sideline and Lenny Breda took a swing pass for another nine yards to the Pios twelve.
With no timeouts left and third and one at the ND twelve, Crawford arced a perfect pass to Breda on a corner post to tie the score at 14 with 18 seconds to halftime.
“If we would have gotten a first down and not let them get the ball back at the end of the half, that hit that caused the fumble was really a big play,” noted Cook. “It turned out we didn’t get the first down and we have to do a better job in that situation of getting it off the goal line.”
Notre Dame quickly took the lead four plays into the second half. After three Luke Broussard runs gained a first down at the Pios 31, QB Brad Stoma faked another hand off and lofted a bomb to split end Nicholas Benoit, The 69-yard touchdown pass put the Pios up 20-14.
“I wanted Nick to be in there on that play and for him to have a shot,” said Cook. “He’s a good player and we need him in our offense. Tonight, he made the big catch and to get an easy one like that after us grinding and grinding in the first half and they would come back on us, I think that was a turning point for the game. Brad (Stoma) throws the deep ball awful well and I told coach Lew (Cook Jr) we have to take a shot.”
St. Louis would never threaten the lead again. The Saints punted three times and lost the ball on two interceptions over the next five possessions. The Saints then ran a play to run out the final seconds after the last Pios score.
For a team that has given Notre Dame problems with the run in the past, the Saints could gain only 63 yards on 28 carries. The first half passing success was tempered to produce 212 yards of total offense on the night. The Saints gained just 32 yards in the second half and made only two first downs. Crawford completed just 2 of 7 passes and the St. Louis offense had the ball for only seven of the final 24 minutes against the Pios defensive adjustments.
“We were getting pressure in the first half, but they were leaving a guy there for the quarterback to dump it to and he was getting it off. Coach Mac made some adjustments at the half and we took that away, we got some sacks and kept them backed up where we could kind of go after them.”
A 27-yard punt return by Luke Broussard set up the Pios offense at the St.Louis 28. Austin Thibodeaux dragged tacklers for 18 yards on first down, slashed off the left side for seven on the next play, plowed ahead for two on second a goal from the three and scored from a yard out with 27 seconds left in the third quarter. Nicholas Benoit took a reverse in for the 2-point conversion and a 28-14 lead.
After the ensuing kickoff, Hunter Stelly logged a quarterback sack for a twelve yard loss. Crawford attempted to pass out of trouble, but Sam Veillion intercepted at the Saints 13 and took it into the end zone for a 35-14 lead.
With six minutes to play, Gavin Bourgeois intercepted Crawford at the St. Louis 44 and returned to the 19 yard line. The Pios reserves ran the ball eight times for the final score with 16 seconds to play. Sophomore Ivy Robichaux scored from three yards to make the final 42-14.