Pios offense thrives under first-year QB
CROWLEY – Notre Dame coach Lewis Cook wasn’t exactly sure what to expect when he named sophomore Brad Stoma as his starting quarterback heading into the 2012 prep football season.
And rightfully so.
Stoma had spent the bulk of the 2011 season as the starting quarterback on the freshman team and he hadn’t actually seen any playing time with the varsity Pios prior to spring practice.
“I felt last year, watching him (Stoma) as a freshman, that he had a chance to be a really good quarterback,” said Cook, whose team is preparing for a state title matchup with Parkview Baptist this Saturday at the Superdome. “Now, how fast he would come along was the question.”
That question has been answered and with a huge exclamation point, at that.
Through 14 games, Stoma has accounted for 1,353 total yards of offense, mostly through the air, and has come though in the clutch on countless occasions during the Pios’ run to the state title game.
“Brad has done a tremendous job for us,” said Cook. “With some experience on the offensive line and at running back coming back, we felt that would take some pressure off the quarterback position so we didn’t have to rely on throwing it 25 times a game. That gave him a chance to kind of grow into the position.
“But he’s really done a good job. He really manages the game well and he’s made some big throws for us, throws that he had to make.”
Stoma has completed 78 of his 145 pass attempts for 1,300 yards and nine touchdowns to date. More impressively, he has only thrown two interceptions on the year.
Although he has had numerous passes to keep drives alive all season, none was bigger than pass he completed midway through the fourth quarter of Notre Dame’s 16-14 semifinal victory over East Feliciana last week.
On second-and-20 from the Pios own 45, Stoma connected with Nick Benoit for a 48-yard completion down the East Feliciana 7-yard line to set up the eventual game-winning field goal.
“Brad handles the pressure well and when he’s had to make throws, he’s made them,” said Cook. “That pass to Benoit ended up being a really huge play.
“That along with the way the defense played and making the field goal ended up being the difference in the game. I wasn’t comfortable with 13 (points) and I felt we would have to get another field goal or touchdown somewhere along the way to win the game. That throw and catch was huge.
“But that’s what I’m saying, he’s found a way to make the plays when we had to have them and he’s done a really nice job for us.”
Stoma is complemented by a core of receivers that has been as effective as any unit the Pios have had.
Benoit leads the way with 14 receptions for 394 yards and four touchdowns while Brandon Leger has 20 catches for 308 yards. Marcus Garrett has logged nine catches for 185 yards and three touchdowns.
“This group (of receivers) is as good as we have had in the past and they’ve done a really nice job,” said Cook. “A couple years ago, Zach D’Aquin and Morgan Allen were a good combination and even last year, Blake Miller and Joseph Schmid were pretty good.
“Nick, Brandon and Marcus are in the mix with those groups. They have been very solid for us and they have made the plays that they have had to make for us to be successful.
“They have really stepped it up and become good receivers for us.”
Notre Dame’s running backs have also been targeted by Stoma in the passing game. Luke Broussard has nine receptions for 101 yards and Ross Cullen has eight catches for 113 yards and a touchdown. Austin Thibodeaux and John Michael Besse have combined for 15 receptions for 144 yards as well.
“All four of our backs can catch,” said Cook. “All four of those guys can catch it and somewhere along the way, have had big plays in the throwing game.”
That backfield has also provided Notre Dame with the bulk of their offense on the ground.
Broussard has been the Pios’ featured back and he has amassed 1,560 yards and 14 touchdowns on 236 carries. Thibodeaux follows at fullback with 676 yards and 13 touchdowns on 106 carries while Besse has racked up 613 yards and eight touchdowns on 118 carries.
“The big thing is that we’ve always tried to spread it out a little bit so that we wouldn’t wear one guy down,” said Cook. “With John Michael coming on, which we felt he would be able to do for us, that has helped Luke a little bit.
“Having all those guys back there is the reason why they are fresh right now and not all beat up heading into Week 15. That’s been huge for us.”
Through the Pios’ 14-game stretch, the offense has produced 4,428 yards and is averaging 340.6 yards per outing.
And as impressive as that is, Cook is quick to point out that it wouldn’t be possible without his offensive line.
“The success that we’ve had, it all starts up front,” said Cook. “The offensive line has been the ones that have paved the way for those guys to be able to be successful. Having some experience and some depth on the line has been the key.”
The offensive line is anchored by Andrew Valdetero at center. Also playing key roles are Luke Habetz at tight end and Christian Hundley at guard. Other linemen adding to the Pios’ success are Andrew Breaux, Nick Casanova, Patrick Hudley and Wyatt Breaux.
“That bunch has been solid and they’ve stayed heathy, thank God,” said Cook. “They’ve done a good job.”