Notre Dame Pios head to Superdome
By Lance Reed
A wise man once said, “Defense wins championships!” Well, he was pretty close to exactly right if you ask the Notre Dame Pioneers and their fans. The Pios punched their ticket for the Class 3A State Championship game with a 17-10 victory Friday night over the Wolves of Redemptorist High School. The contest was all it was supposed to be with the Pios coming out on top.
The contest started like so many of the Pioneers’ games have this year. The defense came on the field and forced the Wolves off quickly. The Pios forced a fumble and got the ball at the RHS 31-yard line.
Notre Dame Sophomore Stu Cook took the offense on the field for just the second time this year. Cook, who replaced injured starting quarterback Ryan Leonards, handed the ball off to Jordan Bertrand who turned around and pitched the ball back to Cook. The youngster, who hadn’t took snaps since the first game of the year, dropped back and found senior wide receiver Nick Zaunbrecher sprinting down the field. Zaunbrecher pulled in the pass and trotted into the end zone for six points. Stephen Benoit added the extra point, making it a 7-0 ball game with 10 minutes left in the first quarter.
The NDHS defense continued to dominate the ball game. They forced the Wolves off of the field over and over again. The Pios allowed just one first down in the entire first half. Sacks by Seth Fruge, Mikey Dyzart and Jacob Molbert helped to keep the Wolves from putting together any offense.
In the second stanza, the Pios found a way to get back on the board. After getting the ball on their own 47-yard line, a big run from fullback Marshall Watson got things started. A few plays later, Cook hit Robert Sarver on a screen pass that produced 22 yards. Cook helped his cause with a 13-yard sprint into the Wolves’ 10-yard line. Watson punched the rock in from six yards out. Benoit’s kick was good, making it a 14-0 ball game with a little more than two minutes left in the half.
The 14-0 lead at the half seemed to stun the Wolves, but the game was far from over. With 24 minutes left on the clock, it seemed as though it was an eternity. The Pios got the ball to begin the second half. The drive began at the NDHS 25-yard line. Great runs from Cook, Bertrand and Watson helped the Pios to get within Hunter Stover’s field goal range. When the drive stalled, NDHS Head Coach Lewis Cook had no problem calling for Stover’s leg. The junior blasted a 49-yard field goal through the uprights, making it a 17-0 ball game.
The 10-play drive that lasted five minutes put the Wolves against the ropes. Like in any fight between two good entities, the boys in green and white came back swinging. After the Wolves’ offense was forced off the field by the NDHS defense, it was the RHS defese that made something happen for the visiting team.
A fumble gave the Wolves the ball back at mid field. A great scrambling play from quarterback Deuce Coon moved the ball close to the NDHS red zone. The Pioneers stood firm and held the Wolves out of the end zone. Redemptorist’s All-State field goal kicker, Kyle Hall, booted a 43-yard kick through the yellow posts for three points.
With their lead cut to 17-3, the Pios still held a lot of momentum. Once again, the Wolves defense came through and forced the NDHS offense off the field. Notre Dame returned the favor by producing a three plays and out situation on the Wolves.
After the Wolves forced another fumble at the top of the fourth quarter, the RHS offense was in business when they recovered the ball at the Notre Dame 20-yard line. It took five plays and less than two minutes for the Wolves to find the end zone. An eight-yard touchdown run from Jonathan Green moved the RHS group within a touchdown of the local boys with a little more than nine minutes left to go in the ball game.
The two squads went back and forth for nine minutes. The momentum was evenly split down the middle. With two minutes left in the game, the Wolves got the ball back. Knowing it would be their last possession, they gave it all they had when they got the ball back on their own six-yard line. A short pass to Jonathan Green turned into a huge gain. The ball was moved all the way down to the NDHS one-yard line. With 22 seconds left to go, the Pios stuffed the Wolves on first down and second down. An off-sides call on third down moved the ball back to the NDHS six-yard line with 12 seconds to go. The Pios made back-to-back stops behind great plays from senior Jordan Comeaux and linebacker D.J. Welter to keep the Wolves from scoring what could have been the game tying touchdown.
“I was hoping we could hold them or they would fumble,” Cook explained about his feelings when Redemptorist was at the NDHS one-yard line. “My mind also started thinking about what we would do in overtime if they would punch it in. I was trying to get my thoughts together.”
Senior Seth Fruge led the defense with 16 tackles, while Welter and Molbert each had 11 stops. “It was fitting that it ended the way it did,” Cook said. “All year, they (the ND defense) have been coming up big and helping us win. They did last week, and tonight they helped us preserve the win again.”
The NDHS offense produced 17 points, including 10 points off of two very good drives. Coming into the game, it was the offensive phase of the game that was uncertain because of the injury to Leonards.
“It was a very gutsy performance by the offense tonight,” Cook remarked. “Sure the turnovers were a little disappointing, but we were able to make the plays when we needed. That was a very good defense. To put drives together that score points says a lot.”
In a flood of fans on the field, the Pios were joyous and excited to know they will be going back to the Class 3A Football State Championship after a two-year absence. Friends, family and alumni surrounded the Pios and their coaches after the game. Notre Dame will now face another old nemesis, Lutcher. The Bulldogs destroyed Cecilia 58-26.
“I am very happy for our kids,” Cook admitted. “They have been very fun to be around. They are unselfish and very team oriented. They are really are a deserving team. I am also happy for the coaches, managers and trainers that get to experience this. Most of them have never been around something like this.”
With a humble smile and sigh of relief the long time coach and his hard working staff now turn their attention to the Lutcher Bulldogs and a shot at the state championship. The Pioneers (13-0) and Lutcher (11-2) square off Friday at 7 p.m. in the New Orleans Super Dome.