Pios hold off late surge by LaGrange

 CROWLEY – A hurricane last season cancelled the season opener and a lightning storm delayed the start of Thursday’s game between Notre Dame and LaGrange.

Once the weather cleared, three first half touchdowns carried the Pios to a 28-14 win over the Gators. Notre Dame did have to survive a third quarter LaGrange flurry to prevail against the 8th ranked team in Class 4A.

“We really had to work for this one and it will make us a better team,” noted Pios coach Lewis Cook. “Give them a lot of credit because they could have gone away easy when it was 21-0. This game was everything a good high school game should be.”

The Pios struck like lightning, going 74 yards in less than two minutes to start the game. Quarterback Brad Stoma connected with John Michael Besse for a 33 yard pass on the first play. Besse then popped through for a 26 yard run on the next play down to the Gators 15.

After two short gains, Besse covered the final yard for the touchdown. Dustin Reiners booted the point after with a minute and 47 seconds off the game clock.

Three plays later, senior linebacker Kade Smith intercepted a pass at the LaGrange 23 yard line. The Pios needed six plays to punch it in, Besse getting his second TD of the evening on a five yard run. Reiners added the PAT for a 14-0 lead with 6:18 left in the first quarter.

A fumble inside the Gators 15 and interception at the LaGrange 30 halted the next two Notre Dame possessions. The Pios ended the half in signature style with a 15 play, 7 minute drive covering 73 yards.

On the drive, Lance Bertrand carried three times of 21 yards, Jeff Daigle picked up nine yards with two carries and John Michael Besse had his number called seven times for 33 yards. From the Gators three, Besse scored his third TD of the evening and Reiners booted his third extra point to make it 21-0 at the break.

“That drive was really important for us going into the half,” added Cook. “They were getting the ball to start the second half and with the way they came out in the third quarter, it became even bigger for us.”

LaGrange took the second half kick as if a light switch had been turned on, doubling their first half offense with an 80 yard scoring drive. Tyler Guillory powered through the Pios for 36 yards on first down and two plays later Mark Hawthorne gained 29 yards to the Pios 14.

On third down at the Pios 12, quarterback Quindon Barry fired down the middle into the end zone for tight end Alvinosky Lafleur. The pass was deflected high into the air giving Mark Hawthorne, who was not the intended receiver, time to run under and make the catch for a touchdown. The conversion failed for a 21-6 Pios lead.

“The drive to start the second half got them a little momentum and they revved it up defensively,” continued Pios coach Cook. “We turned it over to them twice to start the second half and you just can’t do that against a good team.”

Those fumbles on the next two possessions brought the Pios game total to four turnovers. LaGrange capitalized on the second fumble to again cut into the Notre Dame lead.

“I always tell our guys that there are two reasons you fumble,” explained Cook. “Either you have bad fundamentals or you get the stuffing knocked out of you. They stripped us a couple of times, but on that second one, John Michael (Besse) got caught in traffic and they stood him up, then the linebacker came over and had a free shot at him. That’s going to happen sometimes.”

With a short field at the Notre Dame 42, LaGrange found creases in the Pios defense with sophomore Markell Hawthorne picking up five yards on first down and sixteen yards on second down to the Pios 21. 

On fourth and goal from the Pios five, Barry sent LaFleur on an out route at the goal line and completed a touchdown pass with two seconds left in the third quarter. Jaylun Myles took a reverse around the left side for a two point conversion to make the Notre Dame lead 21-14.

“They were taking some chances on defense, doing some things that made it tough for us,” said Cook. “When you’re behind in a game like they were, you have to gamble to try and get back into it. We were being a little conservative with the lead on a night when it’s wet and muggy and their cover guys were pretty good.”

The Pios defense got back on track with defensive end Nate Link pressuring the Gators’ Barry on a third down play to force a punt and the Pios special teams turned the game back in their favor. Gavin Bourgeois circled behind a wall of blockers and returned the punt 38 yards to the LaGrange 22.

Brad Stoma optioned for 11 yards and three plays later ran the same option for another 11 yards and the touchdown. Dustin Reiners split the uprights for a 28-14 lead with 6:21 to play.

Quarterback hurries from Nate Link, Conner Kirsch and Lane Latiolais set up a fourth down play at the Gators 38. Barry completed a swing pass to Myles and linebacker Hunter Stelly made the tackle short of the first down with seconds to play.

Stelly had 12 tackles to lead the Pios defense which allowed just 1 of 6 third down conversions, eight completions and 194 yards of total offense. Conner Kirsch had nine tackles on the defensive line and Nate Link added seven stops, two for losses, forced a fumble, broke up a pass and recorded three quarterback hits.

Notre Dame ran for 238 yards, Besse carrying 19 times for 131 yards and three touchdowns and catching two passes for 40 yards. Bertrand gained 50 yards on 10 carries and Stoma rushed for 48 yards on 9 totes and completed 3 of 7 passes for 46 yards.

The Pios will travel to Breaux Bridge next week for the annual week two matchup with the Tigers.

“It doesn’t get any easier,” concluded Cook. “The next two weeks are pretty brutal, but when it is all said and done, it will make us a better team down the road.”

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