Quick start propels Notre Dame past Catholic
Having been long established as a ball control team with a power running game, it’s no wonder opponents would have a tendency to focus their defense on the quarterback to halfback handoff. That was mistake number one for the Catholic High Panthers.
After the Pios defense forced the Panthers to punt on the game’s first possession, Brad Stoma faked a handoff, pulled up and went downfield for a 35 yard completion to Royce Zaunbrecher. On the next play, John Michael Besse went 33 yards around the right side for a touchdown.
Two plays and 29 seconds for a 7-nothing lead. The quick TD marked the return of the Notre Dame quick strike offense.
“We saw on films that the free safety stepped up on runs,” explained Pios coach Lewis Cook. “We thought we could get a big play on them early to give us an advantage and it turned out we would need it.”
Notre Dame would score four more touchdowns on drives taking less than three minutes each ad another that took just under four. The Pios racked up 497 yards of offense and never trailed on the way to a 44-22 shootout win.
“We knew coach Indest would have his team ready to play and throw some things at us we hadn’t seen,” added Cook. “They have some talented players that made some big plays and we knew this would be a tough game.”
Another stop on defense gave the offense its second series at the Pios 24 yard line. It took just under three minutes for QB Stoma to engineer another 7-play scoring drive.
John Michael Besse gained 14 on first down and on a fourth and one at the Pios 47, Cook rolled the dice. Stoma faked another handoff to Besse and darted around the fooled defense for 43 yards to the Panthers 10. Two plays later, Stoma connected on a 13-yard TD pass to Royce Zaunbrecher and the Dustin Reiners PAT made it 14-0.
“We mixed it up with some read option where I either give to the back or take it around the end,” explained Pios QB Brad Stoma. “Some of those plays were designed runs for me to just keep it and the play action opened up the edges for those to work.”
It was Catholic’s turn to gamble on fourth and three at the Panthers 43. CHNI coach Brent Indest chose to test the PIos up the middle. Linebackers Hunter Stover and Kade Smith stopped tailback Andre Bellafontaine cold for a one yard gain.
Stoma completed a pass over the middle to Boedy Borill for 13 yards and Lance Bertrand moved it into the red zone with eight yards on two carries. Shea Zaunbrecher gained 5 and Bertrand powered for 11 more yards and first and goal at the Panthers four. Zaunbrecher took it in from there for a 20-0 lead.
The Pios defense was good in the beginning and good at the end. At times, the rest of the night was a struggle against the misdirection runs of the Panthers Wing T scheme.
“I could see the concern of Coach Mac (defensive coordinator) all week,” noted Coach Cook. “You can’t simulate what they do in practice with your scout team. The handoffs are in close quarters and hard to see. It’s a lot different in the game and we emphasized that all week to our defense.”
CHNI quarterback Jason Pellerin got his team back into the game with a 13 play, 77 yard drive. The junior QB mixed runs with three completions to Gabe Fusilier to the Notre Dame 32. On fourth and six at the Pios 23, Pellerin connected over the middle to Bellafontaine and he battled into the end zone cutting the lead to 20-7.
On the next series, ND QB Stoma had his throwing arm hit on a pass and the Panthers intercepted. An 18-yard return with a 15-yard personal foul tacked on gave CHNI the ball at the Notre Dame 22 yard line.
On first down, Pios linebacker Kade Smith sacked Pellerin for a 6 yard loss. On second down, Nate Link and Mathew Hanks stopped a run for no gain. Pellerin completed a pass to Fusilier on third down and LB Hunter Stelly took him down for a one yard gain. On fourth down, Nate Link and Stelly sacked Pellerin for a 3 yard loss.
“That series was the difference in the game,” said Cook. “We give them the ball with a chance to get within one score before the half and our defense just shuts them down.”
Notre Dame then took the second half kick and after putting themselves in a hole at the Pios nine with a penalty on the return, took over seven minutes off the clock with a drive that came up short at the Panthers 19. Dustin Reiners split the uprights from 37 yards for a field goal to make it 23-7 Pios.
Catholic came roaring back when Pellerin turned the corner for a 40 yard run to the ND 15 and capped the drive by running it in from the two. Fusilier caught a two point conversion pass from Pellerin to get the Panthers within one score at 23-15.
The Pios answered with Shea Zaunbrecher returning the ensuing kickoff 24 yards and Besse gaining 28 yards on first down. Four plays later, Besse darted 21 yards for a 30-15 Pios lead covering 56 yards in two and a half minutes. Besse finished the night with 162 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries and caught three passes for 30 yards.
Catholic wasn’t done, storming 80 yards in just 4 plays. Pellerin broke loose for 24 yards on first down and then found Fusilier for an 11 yard completion. Fullback Devin Verret split the Pios defense for a 42 yard TD run up the middle to make it 30-22.
Dueling quarterbacks continued on the next Pios possession as Brad Stoma tacked on a 39 yard run. The junior QB finished the night with 116 yards running the ball and completed 10 of 14 passes for 112 yards. Lance Bertrand gained 11 and Stoma finished the drive with an 11 yard completion to Jack Wager and a handoff to John Michael Besse for a 10-yard TD run and a 37-22 lead.
“I felt like the offense just needed to step it up, pick up our game and help the defense out for once,” added Stoma. “Our defense has bailed us out of tough situations and they always have our back. It was our turn to help them out.”
The Pios defense turned up the heat with Curt Petitjean dropping Pellerin for a two yard loss. Hunter Stelly, who again led the Pios with 12 solo and 13 total tackles, Conner Kirsch and Caleb Lambousy teamed up for a three yard loss on the next play. Pellerin attempted to pass when Nate Link forced a fumble and Hunter Stelly recovered.
From the Panthers 38, Stoma had a completion of 12 yards to Besse, but the 8 play scoring drive was the Lance Bertrand show. The sophomore tailback carried six times for 28 yards and then yielded to Stoma for a 3 yard sneak behind center Conner Arceneaux for the final margin of 44-22.
“I was really proud of the way we just kept answering them,” added Cook. “They had some guys going both ways and we kind of wore them down a bit. They were still effective on offense and our guys just kept coming right back on them.”