Irish pound their way to SOSSA championship
Over the past seven days, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish senior football team has rode the running of Tal Ibrahim and quarterback Marshall McCray to a pair of bowl victories.
Last Thursday, it was Ibrahim doing most of the leg work, contributing 18 carries for 149 yards and TD runs of six and 30 yards in 36-7 victory over the A.N. Myer Marauders in the Niagara Bowl. McCray added TD runs of one, 10 and 13 yards.
In Wednesday’s 33-6 victory over the Westmount Wildcats in the Southern Ontario Secondary Schools Association Bowl, Ibrahim had 17 carries for 106 yards before leaving the game in the second half with an injury. McCray contributed 23-yard and 37-yard TD runs, the first coming on a fake field goal in the first quarter.
And while the pair’s running has been truly epic, it has been the play of Notre Dame’s defence which has really propelled the Irish to their best performances of the season. Notre Dame held Myer to five first downs and 138 yards of net offence and then stifled Westmount, giving up 217 net yards of offence and eight first downs, with a good chunk of that coming on the Wildcats’ last possession of the game.
“The film we had on them looked like they were running all over people and they got some big plays on us but for the most part we stuck with them and played hard,” Notre Dame head coach Tim Bisci said. “We gave up one touchdown when our offence wasn’t really working but the defence played tough all game.”
Leading the way for Notre Dame’s defence as he has done all season was defensive tackle Braydon Snider.
“He has been playing strong for us all year,” Bisci said. “He had a knee injury early but he has bounced back from that and he has been the anchor of our defensive line. Today was big for us when a team like that wants to pound the ball and they just couldn’t do it.”
Bisci likes everything about Snider.
“He is big and strong and his engine is running all the time. When you have a guy who can take on double teams, clog up the middle and beat them up, that is big for us.”
The 6-foot-1, 266-pounder has been playing football for the last 10 years.
“I love the intensity, I love the hitting and I love everything about it,” the 17-year-old said.
The Grade 12 student has received some interest already from university scouts but he is not fixated on playing football at the university level.
“I am going into the trades and I am more focused on carpentry right now,” he said. “I am interested but if it doesn’t come, it doesn’t come and I am OK with it.”
Snider and the defence has been more than OK the past few weeks.
“Our defensive line has always kept ourselves level-headed and kept ourselves in check while keeping the motor going,” he said. “We are stopping the run and we need to get a little bit better on the outside routes but that’s about it.”
Like the defence, the entire Irish squad seem to be peaking at the perfect time.
“We are piecing it together as we go,” Bisci said. “Last week we were hyped up for the Myer game and that was a big deal. It was tough to keep that momentum coming into this game but the kids had to dig deep and they did, especially in the second half when they started making plays.”
McCray has a simple explanation for the team’s success.
“It is the work we are putting in behind the scenes,” McCray said. “We keep getting better and better and I don’t see us stopping.”
Notre Dame has gone to ground and pound the last few weeks with great success.
“I have been saying it forever that we need to be more physical than the team we are playing against. Some years you have guys who can be more physical and other years you have to try to get guys to dig a little deeper,” Bisci said. “This year has been one of the years we have been able to play physical with teams and as long as we can keep doing it, we are in good shape.”
No one plays more physical than McCray.
“It feels good to run somebody over,” he said. “It’s working in the weight room and I have gotten a lot stronger than I was last year.”
Westmount, which last week won its third straight Hamilton public title, came into Wednesday’s game unbeaten but didn’t help itself with several costly turnovers and too many penalties.
“The first half was good and then we had more turnovers than we had all year. You can’t turn the ball over as many times as we did,” Westmount head coach Tom Pain said. “We had lots of penalties which was unfortunate.”
Pain was impressed by Notre Dame.
“They are fast and they have good athletes,” he said. “We have good athletes too but we haven’t seen that kind of speed this season.”
With both squads competing in Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations Bowl games next week, Wednesday’s game was a little anticlimactic.
“Neither team needed to play this game and we were down here playing a game we didn’t need to play,” Pain said. “It made it difficult to focus.”
McCray said the SOSSA Bowl meant a lot to the Irish.
‘We’re just competitors and we don’t want to lose,” he said. “We want to win and keep going.”
Fighting Irish 33 Wildcats 6
Cat’s Caboose Player of the Game: Notre Dame quarterback Marshall McCray with two TD runs.
For the Notre Dame Fighting Irish: 23-yard and 37-yard TD runs by Marshall McCray; five yard TD run and convert block by Jake Tessier; 60-yard interception return for TD by Dayshawn Johnson; 35-yard field goal by Jake Laewetz; and, fumble recoveries by Josh Dywan and Ezra Sylvester.
For the Westmount Wildcats: One-yard TD run and sack by Nathan Denkers; sack by Asher Lavoie.
Game stats: Net offence: ND 346 yards, WW 217 yards. First downs: ND 15, WW 7; Penalties: ND 7 for 50 yards, WW 10 for 97 yards. Turnovers; ND 2, WW 4.
Up next: Notre Dame plays North Park Collegiate Nov. 30 at 1 p.m. at Bison Field in Brantford in the Central Bowl.