This was a close one, a lot closer than the scoreboard and the stat sheet would indicate. But Notre Dame made it three in a row over District 4-3A contenders with a 28-7 win at Westlake Friday.
“They really took it to us in the first half and we were very fortunate to get this win,” said Pios coach Lewis Cook. “They played really hard and were well prepared for us. Thank goodness we got a couple of breaks to keep us going and then we kind of took over in the second half.”
Notre Dame took the opening kickoff and appeared to be driving for an early score. But a procedure penalty ended up halting the drive and Dustin Reiners pinned the Rams with a 38 yard punt inside the twenty.
The Pios defense forced a three and out and when the snap sailed over the head of Westlake punter Brandon Landry into the Rams end zone, Kip Credeur recovered for a Pios touchdown. Reiners added the extra point for a 7-0 lead.
Westlake responded with an 80 yard drive for a first and goal at the Pios one yard line. Ram Tim Hamilton was stopped twice for no gain on quarterback sneaks, first by Hunter Stelly and then by Sammy Graf. Westlake tailback Latrell Martin carried five times for 37 yards on the drive and got the call on third and goal. Stelly shot through to drop Martin for a two yard loss and on fourth and goal, Hamilton threw incomplete in the end zone to solidify the Notre Dame goal line stand.
“They turned Westlake back four times from the one and I was really proud of them,” added Cook. “They don’t ever give in, no matter the situation and that goal line stand was a huge lift for us.”
Westlake got back to the Pios 31 yard line on the next series. On fourth and one, Clint Reiners dropped Martin for a one yard loss to dodge another scoring threat.
Perhaps suffering from a little “Rice Festival Withdrawal” with a rare Friday night game on the weekend of the annual event, the Pios just couldn’t get the offense in gear. Notre Dame moved the ball only 32 yards on 13 snaps over two possessions.
After another penalty interrupted a Pios drive at mid field, the Rams went back to work from their 20. QB Hamilton completed four passes on the 7-play drive including a swing pass to RB Latrell Martin for 26 yards and a first down at the Pios 26.
Hamliton then hit receiver Tyler Johnson for 22 yards to the Notre Dame four. Johnson had a surprising 89 yards on five first half receptions.
“Jacory Washington, the #88 receiver, was getting all the attention coming in,” stated coach Cook. “He got dinged up a bit, looked like he maybe hurt his neck. Johnson was alternating at quarterback coming into the year and they decided to go with Hamilton as the starter. I tell you, though, the #7 kid is a big target and made some nice plays for them.”
Latrelle Martin took it in from there off the right side. Hamilton kicked the PAT to tie the game at 7-7 with three minutes left in the first half.
“They were big up front and took the inside away,” Cook commented. “We had a little success on the outside with eleven plays of five plus yards or more in the first half. But we had three penalties that made a big difference and got us in a whole on those drives.”
A 64-yard Dustin Reiners punt helped the Pios avoid further damage in a half that saw Westlake outgain Notre Dame 203-80. Five Pios penalties had a hand in stopping three possessions as the teams went to halftime tied.
“We hurt ourselves in the first half and you talk about feeling fortunate to be at 7-7,” noted Cook. “They just whipped us in the first half. We only slowed them down when they got close to the goal line and they did everything but score.”
The penalty problem continued on the first possession of the second half. Notre Dame had the Rams stopped on fourth and five at the Ram 40, but an offsides gave Westlake another series. The defense rose to the task and forced another punt which the Rams again sailed over the head of the kicker.
Notre Dame took over at the Westlake 9 and Luke Broussard gained seven on first down. From the two, Broussard powered in for a 14-7 lead with the Reiners extra point.
“It certainly helps when you can start your first drive of the second half on their nine yard line after the bad snap,” explains Cook. “That got us the lead and we just kind of took it from there and settled on a few things we felt would give us a little bit better chance.”
Notre Dame turned the momentum with a 59 yard drive in six plays. Running back John Michael Besse lost a yard on first down and then turned the corner on second down for 11 yards and a first down.
Quarterback Brad Stoma found Nicholas Benoit for a 30-yard pass completion to the Rams 16. Besse gained three and then sliced for ten yards and first down at the Westlake six yard line.
“John Michael (Besse) made some big runs for us,” praised Cook. “He runs hard, has good burst and slips tackles inside. He’s just a sophomore, too, and the more he goes the better he will get.”
Besse had his best night of the season, gaining 87 yards on 16 carries. Luke Broussard carried it in from six yards out for a 21-7 Pios lead.
As much a relief as that may have seemed for Notre Dame, it wasn’t until Clint Faul intercepted a Westlake pass at the Pios ten that blood pressures returned to the comfort zone.
Westlake QB Tim Hamilton had completed three passes to bring his team from the Ram 20 to the Pios 37 in five plays. Going deep down the sideline for Washington, who had just caught a 16 yard pass, Faul ran step for step and made the play.
The Pios offense then marched 90 yards in 15 plays behind the running of Besse and Broussard and even overcame another holding penalty for the score. Besse carried seven times for thirty five yards including a well executed 15-yard draw play for a first down on third and ten. Broussard got the ball five times for 43 yards, scoring on a 25-yard run for a sixth straight one hundred yard rushing game. Brousse finished with 11 yards on 23 carries and has now rushed for 890 yards in seven games.
“You have to give our guys a lot of credit,” beamed Cook. “We intercepted that ball and took it on a ninety yard drive and that says a lot about our kids. That drive consumed pretty much half of the fourth quarter and that pretty much put it away for us.”
Led by the game leading 14 tackles of linebacker Hunter Stelly, the Pios defense again staked claim to the second half. The Rams offense netted just 41 total yards after halftime.
Christian Landry swatted away four Westlake passes and Clint Faul added a pair of breakups to the interception. The Rams passed for 144 yards in the first half and got 59 yards the rest of the game. Westlake converted just one of seven third down plays and the Pios turned the Rams away on two of three trips into the red zone.
Notre Dame stands alone at 3-0 atop the District 4-3A standings. The Pios have dished out consecutive first league losses to Jennings , Iowa and the Rams.