But Friday’s Class 3A semifinal contest against East Feliciana was the biggest test to date.
And just like in the past, the Pios’ defensive unit came through with flying colors.
The Pios forced three turnovers (two fumbles and one interception), held East Feliciana on seven of their 12 third-down conversion attempts and limited the No. 22-ranked Tigers to just 181 total yards of offense in a 16-14 victory that sends the Pios to the state championship game next Saturday.
“I felt coming in that our defense would be able to hold up against their offense,” said Notre Dame coach Lewis Cook, whose squad will take on Parkview Baptist in the Class 3A title game Saturday at 4 p.m in New Orleans. “Every time we needed a stop, our defense came up with it. What an effort by them. To hold those guys to 14 points is outstanding. What can I say? To hold those stallions at East Feliciana to 14 points is incredible.”
Chad Gibson had a spectacular night for the Pios, logging seven solo tackles, including two sacks, one of which was a sack on blue chipper Kendell Beckwith for a loss of 10 yards.
“We just came out and executed what the coaches told us to do,” said Gibson, who had three tackles that went for minus 14 yards and three quarterback hurries. “They (East Feliciana) have a really good offense and their quarterback was a load to take down. The key for me was just getting off the ball, working down the line and making the tackle.”
Gibson came up big in the second quarter after the Tigers cut the lead to 7-6 with just under eight minutes remaining in the half.
East Feliciana started at its own 20 and on the Tigers’ first play, Gibson tackled Beckwith for no gain. Then on the ensuing play, the senior sacked Theo Hawkins for a 3-yard loss.
Again, in the third quarter, Gibson dropped Beckwith for a one-yard loss and then sacked him for minus 10 yards in the fourth quarter.
Gavin Bourgeois also made his presence known from his defensive back position. Bourgeois had just three tackles on the night, but he broke up two deep passes that had touchdown written all over them.
“We knew they were going to be lights out,” said Bourgeois of the Tigers’ offense. “They threw it more than we thought they would, we just played good.
“We just played like we did (in practice) all week and we executed really well.”
Gibson and Bourgeois’ performances were just part of a much bigger effort, however.
Hunter Stelly had eight tackles and forced one fumble while Matt Venable had two tackles and also caused a fumble.
In addition, Kipp Credeur had 10 tackles (six solo, four assists) and recovered one fumble and Venable also recovered a fumble and had two tackles.
Venable and Stelly came through in the clutch in the second quarter when the Tigers marched down to the Pios’ 24-yard line. On third-and-4, the duo flushed Beckwith out of the pocket and forced an errant throw to bring up fourth down. Ross Cullen, Sammy Graff and Clint Reiners ended the potential scoring threat when they hit Beckwith for no gain and forced the Tigers to turn the ball over on downs.
Another scoring threat was nullified with under a minute to play in the first half when Sam Veillon (4 tackles) picked off Hawkins’ pass at the ND 28.
Reiners also had a sack in the third quarter on third-and-long to force a punt.
“I’m really ecstatic about the way our defense went out and played,” said Notre Dame defensive coordinator Jimmy McCleary. “To go up against the kind of firepower that East Feliciana has on offense and hold them to 14 points is unbelievable. If you would have told me before the game that we were going to hold East Feliciana, with those athletes, to only 14 points I would have laughed at you.”