Pios top Kaplan for 4-AAA title
By Tom Brown
LSN STAFF WRITER
KAPLAN – Notre Dame rolled into Kaplan Friday night for quite possibly the marquis game of the season in the Acadiana area. On the line for both teams was the league title, and for the Pios another unbeaten regular season, the top ranking in the state and more than likely the number one seeding for the state playoffs.
Notre Dame’s Ryan Leonards threw three touchdown passes, tailback Stu Cook hauled in two of those scoring strikes, Luke Besse got the third scoring pass and Marshall Watson barreled in on an 8-yard run as the Pios throttled Kaplan, 28-3.
So, are you convinced yet?
“We know what we’ve got, we know who we are, and I’m awfully proud of our guys the way they come out week after week and get the job done,” explained Pios coach Louis Cook. “We’re just trying to get it done one week at a time. We’re not out to prove anything to anybody but ourselves. I think our guys have done that quite well.”
Kaplan entered the contest with a rushing offense averaging 300 yards a game. That didn’t happen against Notre Dame. The Pirates got 21 yards on their first play and finished the half with just 36 yards as Notre Dame built a 14-3 lead. Kaplan leading rusher Jalen Baker had five games over a hundred yards. That didn’t happen either.
The Pios defense corralled the Kaplan Wing T with six sacks, five tackles for loss yardage, two interceptions and a fumble recovery. Pirates coach Brent Indest has seen Notre Dame defenses before and didn’t need any convincing after the game.
“They’re so physical up front and they get off the ball so well that they just make it difficult for you to get things started,” noted Indest. “Then offensively, they hammer the power game at you then they come back and pass and pass and slip those slot receivers out in the deep flat, it’s a great scheme and it’s hard to cover. We worked on it all week and we didn’t do a very good job, but they had everything to do with that.”
The teams exchanged possessions and with just under four minutes on the clock, quarterback Ryan Leonards connected with Zac D’Aquin in the right flat. D’Aquin (3-74) turned inside a defender and rambled 40 yards to the red zone. Two plays later on a second and goal at the 7, Leonards went over the middle to Luke Besse at the five and he turned it into the end zone for a 7-0 lead with 2:33 to go in the first quarter.
“They were blitzing a lot and on that play we caught the linebacker and the safety coming again,” explained Luke Besse. “I kind of nudged the end, held the block for a second and then slipped out. Once I cleared there was no one to cover me and when I turned up field I knew I could get it in.”
On their next possession, the Pios marched 64 yards in 9 plays. Marshall Watson got things going with a 7-yard run and Stu Cook followed with a 12-yard burst up the middle after slipping a tackler at the line. Leonards hit Morgan Allen for 11 yards on an out route and Watson powered for 15 more through the Pirates defense.
Notre Dame put itself in a hole with another penalty but bounced back for the score with Leonards completing a screen pass to Watson for eight and finding Matt Leleux for an 11-yard pickup to the Kaplan 12. On fourth and goal from there, Leonards scrambled right and threw back over the middle to Stu Cook who made two moves past tacklers for the TD. Stephen Benoit added the extra point at 8:30 of the first half to make it 14-0.
Kaplan’s night was typified by the next two possessions.
On first down from the Pirate 25, Pios Jacob Molbert (14 tackles) and Michael Dysart sacked QB Marc Constable. A two yard gain on second down was followed by another sack, this for an 8-yard loss by Hunter Stover. Kaplan punted to the Pios and on first down a fumble gave the Pirates their first possession in Notre Dame territory.
ND tackle Kacey Mire sacked the Kaplan QB for a loss of nine. Another two yard run and a tackle for no gain by Jacob Molbert forced another punt.
Kaplan would finish with 170 yards total offense, less than half its usual output. The Pirates did become the first Pios opponent in five weeks to get on the scoreboard
Another turnover gave Kaplan the ball at the Pios 38 and seven plays later on fourth down at the ND 13 the Pirates got a 28 yard field goal from Kameron Abshire for a 14-3 halftime score. The points were the first scored in district play against Notre Dame and they would be the last.
“The things they had been having success with just didn’t come easy for them,” Cook explained. “So then they go to the off tackle, the lead play with one back following the other and it gave them a couple of nice plays, the buck sweep came out a couple of times for them. Overall, though, it’s just hard to put play after play together against our defense. A couple of times they get to the outside and it’s a six yard gain because here’s D.J. Welter (18 tackles) running them down and that has been a 20 or 30-yard play for them this year.”
Kaplan took the second half kickoff and kept the ball for 14 plays and seven minutes. Marching to the Pios four yard line, all on running plays, Kaplan put the ball in Jalen Baker’s hands on fourth and three. The entire ND front line greeted him for no gain.
Notre Dame took that lesson a step further by keeping possession into the fourth quarter for a 96-yard scoring drive. Stu Cook, the Pios season leader in all purpose yardage, gained 36 yards on the ground and caught passes for 40 yards in the game. On this drive, from the Pios 7, Cook followed his offensive line for a 20-yard gain around the right side that got his team out of trouble and the shadows of their goal posts.
“Whether we go 96 or not that was the turning point,” continued Cook. “When Stu broke the stretch play from the goal line, that turned the field over for us. If they hold us back there, whether we score or not they get it back in good shape. Those two possessions ate up the whole third quarter and by scoring that was a big blow.”
A third down completion to D’Aquin gained 18-yards and got the Pios over mid field. Morgan Allen took and end around for 21-yards to the Kaplan 11. On third down from the Pirates 8, Marshall Watson, who would lead the Pios with 58 yards on eight carries, barreled in off left tackle to cap the 12-play drive for a 21-3 lead.
On the ensuing kickoff, a rarity as Hunter Stover’s boot did not reach the end zone would turn into a gift for the Pios. Kaplan’s Marc Constable took the kick at the four and on the return was met head on by Pio Andre Thibodeax at the 20. The collision jarred the ball loose, sent the shaken up Kaplan QB to the bench and set the Pios up on the Kaplan 17 with the recovery by Tyler Melancon.
Ryan Leonards rolled out to the right and lofted a perfect scoring pass to Stu Cook for the clincher. Cook circled out of the backfield and caught the ball in stride at the goal line for his second TD of the night.
The third TD pass would be the last of the night for Leonards who completed 13-of-19 for 177 yards. The Pios added 177 rushing for 362 total yards of offense
Kaplan would put together a last effort drive down to the Pios 25 yard line. A third down pass was intercepted by Ricky Stoma and returned 80 yards for a touchdown. Stoma didn’t get to keep the score because of a blocking penalty on the return, but he did get to keep his seventh interception of the season. Luke Bourgeois also had a pick in the first quarter for the Pios.
The win puts the lid on a third consecutive unbeaten regular season for Notre Dame. The Pios will await the final power rankings and playoff brackets. With the top 3A power ranking heading into Friday’s game, it seems likely Notre Dame will hold on to the top spot. The reward is hosting the final playoff qualifier, the #32 seed, next week in the opening round.