Not with 54 passes battering the Notre Dame secondary for 443 yards. Not with 12 costly penalties to make the task even more difficult. Not even when the sand in the Pios hour glass looked dangerously close to running out.
Notre Dame did just enough on defense and more than enough on offense to answer the bell every time Patterson threw a punch at the scoreboard.
That’s what #2 seeds do!
They make plays. Big plays!
“When you get in the playoffs, the lead is big,” noted Pios coach Lewis Cook. “It’s a one and done situation, so the pressure is there. This was one of those type games you know is going to be played that way and it was fortunate our kids made enough of those big plays to put us out ahead to where Patterson had to keep fighting uphill.”
It wasn’t like Cook didn’t try to tell all of us, all week. This was Patterson, two time spoilers of the Pios playoff mission and most certainly a lot better than the #31 seed.
“Did they ever miss a pass? You can’t cover them any better than we did and they caught everything. It was unbelievable! They have great skill athletes, their scheme is really good and they are so fast defensively. They are a good football team that just keeps coming at you and a tough matchup for us. There aren’t too many teams out there that would beat them, I’ll tell you that.”
Luke Broussard rushed for 205 yards and 3 scores, John Michael Besse added 94 yards and a TD and Austin Thibodeaux had 79 yards and a score. The Pios didn’t get any passing yards, but they got 401 on the ground, won the turnover battle and most importantly won on the scoreboard, 38-26.
Notre Dame got an early break when Patterson muffed the opening kickoff and Mathew Hanks recovered at the Lumberjacks 13 yard line. Luke Broussard appeared to have a first down at the three, but a holding penalty nullified the run and the Pios settled for a 35-yard field goal from Dustin Reiners.
The Pios defense halted Patterson on a fourth down pass to stall the drive at the ND 32. Notre Dame moved out past mid field on a 21-yard run by Broussard, but on the next play, Brousse had the ball stripped at the 45.
Jacks QB Denzel Johnson completed a third down screen pass to Larry Turner for 26 yards and a first down at the Pios 29. Johnson then lofted a rainbow to freshman receiver Mykel Jones, who had run an out and go and was wide open at the goal line. The extra point was missed and Patterson led 6-3.
Notre Dame came right back on the next possession, needing just a minute and forty seconds to cover 64 yards in four plays and regain the lead. John Michael Besse gained nine around the right side on first down and picked up eleven on second down.
After an incomplete pass, fullback Austin Thibodeaux burst through a gaping hole in the middle of the line and outran defenders for a 47-yard touchdown. Dustin Reiners kicked the extra point for a 10-7 Pios advantage.
Notre Dame would never surrender the lead again, though Patterson kept the Pios on their heels the next possession. The Jacks drove from their 20 to the Notre Dame 33 highlighted by completions from Johnson to Deondre Skinner for 14 yards and 21 yards on third and 12 at the Pios 41.
Pios LB Matt Venable sparked a defensive stand at that point with consecutive sacks of QB Johnson for losses of nine and eight yards.
“Matt has that explosion off the ball and coach Mac utilized him really well, mixing it up and sending him in to get pressure on the quarterback. There were a lot of other times where he forced their QB into incompletions.”
The Lumberjacks punted and after an exchange of possessions the Pios cushioned the lead. On fourth and two at the Notre Dame 44, Cook rolled the dice. Quarterback Brad Stoma faked the handoff and came around a sealed off left side for 22-yards and a first down at the Jacks 34.
Two plays later, Luke Broussard followed fullback Austin Thibodeaux through the left side and got a kick out block from pulling guard Christian Hundley that left nothing but green grass in front of the senior tailback. The 34 yard TD run and Reiners PAT made it 17-6 Pios with 4:55 left in the half.
Patterson went back to the air with more success. QB Denzel Johnson threw for 225 first half yards, getting 38 of those on a leaping catch down the Patterson sideline by Bryce Tabor to the Pios 30 yard line.
After three incompletions and a near interception, Johnson went deep to the back left corner of the end zone for a touchdown completion to Daylon Charlot. A failed 2-point conversion left the Pios lead 17-12.
“We wanted to stop the run and we did that,” added Cook. “Then it was a matter of whether or not we could contain them enough in the throwing game. Their #26 (Skinner) and #4 (Charlot) are as good as you will face at receiver. I don’t know that you can cover them any better. They just made the plays, catching the ball with us all over them.”
Notre Dame fans breathed a sight of relief after the next kickoff left the Pios at their 26 yard line. John Michael Besse came around the left side and raced 74 yards for a score. Reiners booted the point after for a 24-12 halftime lead.
“You don’t expect to go out on that type team and come back with 50 and 60 yard runs, but we knew they were a gambling type defense,” Cook explained. “They are a feast or famine defense. They feasted on us a few times and they got caught a few times.”
Notre Dame escaped possible disaster when Patterson slow rolled the second half kickoff and recovered at the Pios 34. The Jacks moved to the Pios 20 on a 14-yard completion from Johnson to Jedrick Gunner. Notre Dame forced four incomplete passes with QB hurries from Matt Venable and Hunter Stelly on first and second down, a breakup by Gavin Bourgeois on third down and a fourth down pass breakup from Christian Landry in the end zone to cancel the threat.
“Every stop was big in the game, whether we got it or they got it,” said Cook. “There were a few pass breakups and some sacks at the right time that were really big that go unnoticed in the box score. It’s hard to say the defense did a heck of a job when you see they gave up over 400 yards, but that team right there, the way we match up, that’s probably about as good as we can play it.”
Patterson was back in the air on its next possession, QB Denzel Johnson hitting Jones for 28 yards to mid field. From the Pios 39, Johnson, who completed 25-of-54 passes for 443 yards, found Daylon Charlot for a 39-yard TD. A sophomore, Charlot caught four passes for 141 yards and two scores.
Notre Dame took a 24-18 lead into the fourth quarter after Johnson converted a third down with a 49-yard pass to Charlot. With fourth and 15 at the Pios 29, Johnson went deep to the goal line where ND safety Gavin Bourgeois intercepted and returned to the Patterson 39.
“There were several times our backs were to the wall and the lead had been cut to one score. You have to go back and look at that play as pretty huge. It was fourth down and he could have knocked the ball down, but he saw open field and I’m glad he grabbed it and made a great return to set us up big.”
Austin Thibodeaux carried three times for a first down at the Jacks 26 and Brad Stoma picked up five more to the 22. Luke Broussard swept the left side and blazed for a 22 yard TD run, cushioning the lead back out to 31-18.
With 5:25 to play, Patterson battled back with a 7-play, 65 yard drive in less than two minutes. Johnson hit Skinner (6-93) for gains of 9 and 14 yards. A 9-yard completion to Jedrick Gunner on third and 5 set the Jacks up at the ND 26.
On the next play, Johnson found Mykel Jones (5-98) for a 26-yard TD. A 2-pt conversion got the Jacks to within 31-26 with 3:41 to play.
Needing a couple of first downs to save the win, the Pios turned to their senior backfield of Austin Thibodeaux and Luke Broussard. Thibodeaux powered six yards for a first down with two and a half minutes left. Broussard was hit behind the line on a sweep left, broke the tackle and turned the corner for 35 yards and another first down.
From the Lumberjacks 18, Broussard darted through another gaping hole provided by his offensive front with fist pumping high at the goal line for the clinching score. The 18-yard TD run came with 51-seconds to play and the game ended fittingly with the Pios recording another quarterback sack, defensive end Nate Link doing the honors for the 38-26 final score.
“Offensively, we made the plays when we had to,” summed up Pios coach Lewis Cook. “At the end, the kids came through and Brousse had some big runs down the stretch. At that point in a game like that, you tend to go with the experience and he came up big for us.”
Notre Dame will travel to LaPlace next week to take on St. Charles, the defending 3A State Champs, in the second round of the playoffs.