Fighting Irish back on top
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish defeated the A.N. Myer Marauders 35-12 to win their second Niagara senior football title in the past three years. PETER METHNER PHOTOS
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish left no doubt it was the top football team in Niagara, knocking off the previously unbeaten A.N. Myer Marauders 35-12 in the Niagara championship Thursday at McMaster University.
The Irish led 21-0 at the half and 28-0 in third quarter on their way to their second championship in the past three years.
‘We played well and offensively we took it to them,” Notre Dame head coach Tim Bisci said.
Notre Dame’s first TD, a one-yard run by Jacob Succar in the first quarter, came at the end of a long drive.
“We chipped away and chipped away and Hunter (quarterback Cropper) played really well today and made some nice throws,” he said. “He hit Succar on a 60-yard TD pass (in the second quarter) and (Jared) Tessier scored with nine seconds left in the second quarter on another long drive.”
Notre Dame started with the ball in the second half and had the pigskin for nine minutes before building a 28-0 lead on a 10-yard run by Succar.
Tessier completed Notre Dame’s scoring in the fourth quarter with a five-yard TD run with 58 seconds left in the game.
Also contributing to Notre Dame’s win were: Owen Tofano with an interception and some nice catches to keep drives going; Bryce Livingston with a pick; Cole Smith with five converts and excellent punting; and, Gerrid Holton, Zack Melnyk and Alex Goulbourne with sacks.
“We were really physical with them and you made the comment that our secondary might decide the game,” Bisci said. “Our secondary played very well. We had a blown coverage on their second touchdown and we missed a tackle on their first one.”
“Other than that, we played very well defensively.”
Bisci and his veteran players are feeling redeemed after losing to Saint Paul in last year’s Niagara Catholic Athletic Association championship game.
“We had a lot of talent last year and we let it slip away,” he said. “Our 12B guys are 25-1 in Niagara in the last three years and it’s incredible the run that they have been on.
“They are two-time Niagara champions and we took it to them. We left no doubt today.”
Notre Dame would have loved to play the game in Niagara but the freak November snowstorm made it impossible.
“The safety guidelines say the field has to be totally clear so we ended up having to leave,” Bisci said. “It’s frustrating because it wouldn’t have been nice to play in front of some fans, especially as well as the kids played.”
The Irish won’t have much time to rest up as they will meet Westmount in Hamilton for the SOSSA championship on Tuesday. Bisci watched Westmount play last week after Notre Dame beat Saint Michael in the NCAA championship game.
“They are pretty good,” Bisci said. “They look organized, they are pretty big up front and they have a real nice receiver so it will be interesting to see how we match up with them.”
Bisci wants to keep on winning and play again in a provincial bowl game.
“Last year, we kind of let up at the end of the year and this year we didn’t,” he said. “I thought our league was good enough to help us along the way.”
Saint Paul gave the Irish an excellent game in the regular season and Saint Michael was far from a pushover in the final.
“Saint Mike’s prepared real well for us so we had opponents that got us ready for this,” Bisci said. “When we got to Myer, our guys were ready to go.”
Notre Dame will take a day off Friday and then get back to practising on the weekend.
Bisci’s squad escaped the Niagara final without any costly injuries.
“It was a tough game and we are banged up a little bit but our kids played hard,” he said. “I don’t think Myer has been in a game that physical this year and we sustained drives on them.”
Myer’s scores came on a 60-yard TD pass to Ethan Carmichael from Will Jackman and a 70-yard scoring strike from Jackman to Trent Hunter. Standout performances for the Marauders were turned in by: Zack Ayotte on the offensive and defensive line; Chris Bechkos at middle linebacker; and, Carmichael who had the unenviable task of blocking Melnyk the entire game.
“We had to play a perfect game in order to beat a team like that,” Myer head coach Dave Buchanan said. “Our guys competed well but we made too many mistakes on offence early — simple mistakes like offsides and blocks in the back — in moments where we were starting to drive the ball.”
It caused all kinds of problems for the Marauders.
“We just couldn’t get it going after that,” he said. “We had too many two and outs that left the defence on the field too long and they had long drives that ate up the clock.”
That scenario played against Myer’s style.
“Anyone who plays us knows we can score fast but we have to be on the field to do it,” Buchanan said. “They did a good job on both sides and they had a good scheme defensively.
“They forced us to run the ball and that’s where we are hurting right now with a lack of depth.”
Myer’s third string running back did a good job but it wasn’t enough. The Irish also stymied Myer’s passing game with a game plan that even the most seasoned quarterback would have trouble exploiting.
“They had a three-man line and expanded their linebackers. Those guys are really quick so the (passing) windows were very tiny.”
Buchanan felt he was tough on Jackman, but the Myer quarterback did as well as he could considering he has less than two years experience at the position. The 12B player has rose to the occasion most times this season.
“I think he was the best quarterback that was in our public division, for sure, and he is right up there with regards to the Catholic division as well.”
Myer’s 12Bs came into the game bothered by their championship losses the past two seasons, but they were OK after the loss to Notre Dame.
“We should have won the last two years and they were disappointed in that. They felt they let something get away that they shouldn’t have,” Buchanan said. “Going into this game, we felt we could win but by the end of the game, they were satisfied because they knew that they had played a really good team.”
On this day, the Marauders weren’t the best team.
“We didn’t execute well enough and they did,” Buchanan said. “They are a tough, physical team and I think they were tougher physically than we were, not effort-wise but physically.”
The Marauders have been in the last six Niagara championship games and they will be hard at work to make it seven.
“Every year we are going to be back even if we lose all of these kids,” he said. “We have kids that are getting better and we have kids who are coming up and the mentality will be to try and work harder than everyone else and get in the final game.
“When you get in the final game, you never know what can happen.”
Buchanan describes it as a culture.
“It is a culture that is driven by the coaching staff but more importantly it is accepted by the kids.”
He sees the public league getting stronger in the years ahead.
“That will be good for us too because it will push us.”
Niagara’s football programs are also going to lobby to get another Niagara berth in the bowl games or have the right for the Niagara runner-up to challenge for a bowl spot.
“It’s not a woe is us or sour grapes thing but we as a coaching group recognize the teams we tend to send to our final game should have a chance to compete against other teams or at least challenge them for those bowl bids,” Buchanan said.