It was a lesson in classic, power football, a “throw back” glimpse of the Notre Dame style that paved the way for over three decades of winning teams. It’s a pretty simple formula for success that has been updated to the coach Lewis Cook version.
“Coming into this season we felt there may be games which dictate that is the way to go. With us being a little bigger up front and having bigger backs, we felt we could take a page from what Parkview did against us in the playoffs. St. Louis was blitzing a lot on defense and we didn’t want to expose ourselves with the game on the line.”
Notre Dame has owned the second half in all three games played. In six quarters after halftime, the Pios have controlled the clock and the scoreboard with a power running game.
ND has run the ball 80 times for 401 yards after halftime to average five yards per carry. By comparison, the Pios have gained 237 yards on 55 runs before halftime.
“We have the capability of doing some things on offense that make it tough on the defense,” noted Cook. “We’re bigger and stronger than we’ve been across the front and they just pound and pound the opponent. Our line depth just wears on people. We can roll a few guys in and stay fresh, then we also give a lot of two tight end looks and that stretches the front a bit for some other opportunities.
It’s a pretty imposing look just jogging out onto the field. Trying to pick out the numbers is a chore in itself. Let’s see, we have numbers 60, 51, 59, 55, 52, 59, 77, 88 and 89. And that’s just two plays!
Senior center Andrew Valdetero (6-1, 200), junior guard Christian Hundley (6-2, 245) and senior tackle Andrew Breaux (6-0, 240) are returning starters on an O-line that boasts experience. Senior Nick Casanova (6-1, 245), juniors Patrick Hundley (6-3, 235) and Wyatt Breaux (6-5, 250) and sophomore Reese Besse are all in the mix with power package help from tight ends Luke Habetz (6-2, 220, Sr) and Conner Benoit.
“We haven’t had that type of advantage in a long time,” added Cook. “It takes its toll on the defense and our team prides itself on how we play in the fourth quarter. Now, it is even more evident when you get deeper into the game and you have the potential to wear down the defense and hope they get tired. Of course, that type of physical play means you get some nicks and bruises, but with our potential to work even more guys into the mix it is a luxury for us.”
Big Play of the Game – Brad Stoma TD pass to Nicholas Benoit – It appeared the Pios would be sticking to the running game when Stoma started the third quarter in a 14-14 tie with three straight handoffs. It was a lullaby and St. Louis took the nap. Stoma turned and faked another hand off on the next play, the defense bought it and Benoit streaked past the secondary to catch a 69 yard TD pass in stride for a 20-14 lead. From that point, it was all Notre Dame.
Offense – Luke Broussard – Averaged nine yards a run with 145 yards on 16 carries in less than three quarters. A 9-yard sweep on third and seven kept the first scoring drive going and his 59-yard TD run was pure acceleration. All but one rush was for positive yardage and 5 carries were for a first down.
Defense – Hunter Stelly & Matt Venable – Tough to leave either out of the discussion. Stelly led the defense with 11 total tackles, eight of which were solo stops, one for a loss, forced a fumble and had a sack. Stelly’s big hit that caused a turnover at the Pios two could have been the play of the game had the offense got one first down to run out the first half clock. The third quarter sack backed the Saints up to their eight and prompted a pass on the next play that Sam Veillion intercepted for a touchdown. Venable had seven solo stops, seven total tackles, one for a loss, two quarterback hits, a sack and forced a fumble that set up the Pios for their first score.
Special Teams – Dustin Reiners – Punted 4 times for a 42.5 average. Last two punts were a 48-yarder in the third quarter and in the fourth quarter against an all out rush, Reiners boomed a 51-yarder to the St. Louis 10. His directional kickoffs had enough hang time to allow coverage and tackles to keep the Saints pinned deep and Reiners put his last three kickoffs into the end zone for a touchback. St. Louis had six second half possessions, all came after a kickoff or punt, and the best starting position was the Saints own 20 yard line. Reiners also converted four of five extra points, the lone miss caused by a bad snap.
With two paybacks under the belt, Notre Dame looks to settle the score with Catholic, New Iberia, Friday at Gardiner Stadium. The Panthers were 11-2 last season, losing the opener to Teurlings and winning eleven straight before a quarterfinal loss to Evangel.
Any talk about the Panthers begins with senior quarterback Joe Lissard (6-2, 200). Coming off a season with 3,111 yards passing and 38 touchdowns, Lissard is back at it with over 11-hundred yards and 11 touchdowns in four games.
The Pios were able to contain Lissard for 217 yards on 16-of-32 passes last season. Last week against Church Point, Lissard completed 16-of-30 for 296 yards and three scores.
“The thing we saw last year is that he doesn’t get rattled,” said Cook. “He’s not a runner, so he will stand in there and throw the football. If you give a good QB like him time, he’s going to hurt you. We will have to disrupt their patterns, get pressure with the rush to force him to throw the ball and when he does get into the passing lanes and throwing zones. We’ll try to mix it up and disrupt their ryhym and then make sure they can’t run the ball against us.”
Lissard lost two of his top targets to graduation, but junior Gabe Fusilier (5-11, 175), who scored on a 69 yard end around to ice the Panthers 16-7 win over the Pios last season, returns to the potent offense. Fusilier caught ten passes for 242 yards and touchdowns of 72 and 17 yards last week which is the fourth best single game receiving n the state this season.
Panthers head coach Keith Menard feels his defense is underrated and overlooked. In their 11 wins last year, CHNI posted four shut outs and held opponents to 13 points or less in four others. He may have a point after watching his team hold Church Point to 53 yards and one first down last week. CHNI did not allow the Bears to cross the fifty all night and did not allow a third down conversion on ten tries.
Keep an eye on linebackers Jared Bullock (5-9, 200, Sr) and Hunt Simon (5-7, 160, So) flying to the ball. Strong safety Joe Dworaczyk (6-2, 180, Jr) plays both ways as a tight end on offense and along with Devin Verret (5-6, 175, Jr) are returning starters in the Panther secondary.
Notre Dame will have a distinct size advantage across the front on both sides of the ball. Taking advantage of that may be a key in offsetting the offensive explosiveness of the Panters.
“Their strength on defense is that they are very active,” explains Cook. “They move around a lot, come from different angles, slide their fronts and come off the edge. We have to be patient and go at them a bit to establish the line of scrimmage. We didn’t do that last year. We’ll have to mix it up because they are probably too good to think we can hammer it down the field.”