The Pios dominated the Bulldogs and walked away with a 23-0 victory in the district opener for both teams.
“They came into the game 4-1 and I think you have to give them some credit,” said Pios coach Lewis Cook. “They have some really good players, athletic big kids on the perimeter that can make some plays. But other than that one long run they had, our defense just played so well that they really didn’t get a chance to get anything going.”
That one run of 39 yards was over half what Jennings would total on the ground. The Bulldogs finished with just 81 yards of total offense, had only two pass completions and seven first downs.
As dominating a performance as it was, the Pios head coach wasn’t ready to relax until well into the third quarter.
“We had a couple of opportunities to put more points on the board and either they would come up with a play or we couldn’t make a play. They were hanging in there and we knew they had guys that could take it the distance on any play.”
Notre Dame may have found its lucky charm by taking the football to start a game for the second straight week. Nick Benoit returned the opening kick 66 yards and the Pios offense covered the final 24 yards to in seven plays.
On third and six from the twenty, Luke Broussard lined up in the slot right and took a Brad Stoma pass in the flat just past the first down marker. Four plays later, Austin Thibodeaux powered in from two yards out and a 7-0 lead.
Two possessions later, Hunter Stelly recovered a Bulldog fumble at the Jennings 38. Stoma hit Brandon Leger on a quick curl and Leger turned a spin move around the defender and down the sideline for a 19 yard gain.
Luke Broussard took a counter around the right side for 16 yards and Thibodeaux gained two on first and goal. Brad Stoma followed center Andrew Valdatero in from there and Reiners kicked the PAT to make it 14-0.
Notre Dame appeared to be seizing control when Bulldog tailback LaMontay Mouton busted that 39-yard run to the Pios 41 at the end of the first quarter. ND defensive linemen Sammy Graf and Nate Link teamed to stop backfield mate Jarquis Brown for a short gain on the next play in Pios territory.
The Pios defense rallied with Kip Credeur and Clint Reiners stuffing Mouton at the Pios 26 and Credeur dropping Mouton for a loss on the next play. On fourth and eight at the ND 24, Bulldog QB Jaylon Boutte threw to Mouton swinging out of the backfield and Credeur, who led the Pios with 12 tackles, dropped the tailback short of the marker after a gain of four to turn the ball over.
“We worked all week on stopping the dive play,” noted Credeur. “We felt the key to stopping them on offense was to take that away and make them go to other options. Our up front guys just dominated the line and that made our job as linebackers easier. With them bottling up the middle, we could pursue the ball.”
A Dustin Reiners 43-yard punt backed the Bulldogs up on the next possession and Pios linebacker Hunter Stelly quickly put Jennings in deeper trouble. A driving tackle stood Mouton up on first down inside the Bulldog 20.
After an incomplete pass, a third down fumbled option rolled out of bounds and forced a punt from the Jennings 18. The snap rolled past punter Jaylon Boutte and into the end zone for a safety to increase the Pios lead to 16-nothing.
Notre Dame looked like it would increase the lead when Brandon Leger returned the next Jennings punt 84 yards to the Bulldogs three with five minutes to halftime, but an illegal block nullified the return and left the Pios at their ten.
The remainder of the quarter was a defensive highlight reel. Jennings came up with a turnover at the Pios 26, but big stops by Kip Credeur and Matt Venable set up a fourth and four for the Bulldogs.
Jennings QB Kaleb Chaisson optioned to the right and Credeur slowed the Bulldog QB enough for Sam Veillon to finish the tackle short of the first down and preserve the 16-nothing halftime lead.
“I wasn’t comfortable at halftime because they got behind us a couple of times and couldn’t complete the passes,” noted ND coach Cook. “As good as our defense was playing, there was still an uneasy feeling.”
The Notre Dame defense was even more impressive in the second half. The Bulldogs completed only one short pass for the game and ran for 64 total yards.
On this night, the defensive front would make the wheels turn. Defensive ends Clint Reiners and Nate Link squeezed the Jennings run game to tackles Chad Gibson and Sammy Graf and the foursome led a combined 20 tackles by the front line.
“We focused on the down block to stop the dive,” explained Sammy Graf. “We knew the dive play was coming in behind that block and we wanted to take that away. Size wise we stack up with anyone we play, being more physical is an advantage and we’ve got young guys that have stepped up to play well. We feel really good about where we are.”
The Pios defense relieved any concern by forcing a Jennings punt on the first possession of the second half. The offense put the coach and fans in relax mode with a touchdown six plays later.
Ross Cullen gained five on first down, Luke Broussard picked up four and Brad Stoma got a first down with a sneak to the Jennings 45. Broussard burst for nine up the middle and after a holding penalty, picked up twelve more for another first down at the Bulldog 34.
Tailback John Michael Besse slashed off right tackle and disappeared into a sea of Jennings jerseys. With Bulldog fans cheering the play, Pios fans drowned the noise with louder cheers as Besse somehow plowed through tacklers and exploded out of the pile to outrace tacklers for a 34-yard touchdown.
“When we got the score to 23, I felt a lot better about getting out of there with a win,” added Cook. “If we could just control the ball, run the clock and get it into the middle of the fourth quarter, with that lead, our defense would hold up.”
The last three Jennings possessions were uneventful. Christian Landry logged a key pass breakup and Nate Link had a sack to stop the Bulldogs to end the third quarter.
Clint Faul had a breakup and an interception to stop the next Jennings series. The Pios kept the ball for five minutes, ran the clock inside two minutes to play and moved to 4-1 and 1-0 in district 4-3A.
“That is kind of what we go in thinking, control the ball, play good defense and take advantage of opportunities,” summed up Cook. “Not having Austin (Thibodeaux) in the second half changed the complexion of the game. We had a few plays that we didn’t get and penalties. It seemed like on a lot of big plays we had flags on the ground, so that takes away a little of the flow. There was definitely a confidence our players were winning the line of scrimmage and making plays. Now we have to do it all over again next week.”