McCray leads Irish to NCAA three-peat
The biggest star on Notre Dame’s star-studded roster shone brightest in Thursday night’s Niagara Catholic Athletic Association senior football final at Saint Paul.
Notre Dame 12B quarterback Marshall McCray rushed the ball 11 times for 218 yards and three touchdowns to power the Fighting Irish to a 34-14 victory over the Blessed Trinity Thunder.
McCray’s two biggest plays were a 29-yard run in the second quarter with the Irish facing a second and 20 and a 29-yard pass to Jared Tessier in the second quarter with Notre Dame gambling on a third and 17 play and only leading 14-12 at the time.
McCray makes Notre Dame head coach Tim Bisci’s job easy.
“It’s just give Marshall the ball and he will make me look like a genius all day long. Whatever I call, he seems to work something out with it,” he said. “He understands our offence and he understands what he can do. We’re making calls and I will look at him a few times and ask ‘What do you think is going to work?’ and he’ll say it and we will do it.”
And while Bisci’s job is easy with McCray at the helm, Blessed Trinity head coach Brad Hubbard was trying to deal with a nightmare.
During one timeout, Hubbard urged his players to let anyone else but McCray beat them, but the problem was it still happened whether it was on a called play or McCray freelancing his way to big yards in crucial situations.
“He is an absolute dynamic player and you can scheme as much as you want but at some point his talent, his desire, and his football intelligence is obvious and he makes it very difficult. He also has a lot of toughness, a wonderful arm, he has speed, he has size and he is the emotional leader on that team. When he’s successful, it is very difficult to combat that.”
The Thunder didn’t help themselves by giving McCray extra opportunities.
“When you have arguably the best player in the league playing quarterback, if you have an opportunity to keep him on the sideline by getting first downs it doesn’t help when you fumble the ball or when we don’t take the opportunity to pick him off and keep our offence on the field,” Hubbard said.
McCray was in his element Thursday.
“I thrive off of these moments.”
Scary for the opposition is that he keeps improving as a player.
“I am doing everything better. My skills, my arm and my athletic ability. I have really stepped us this year.”
Watching from the sidelines Thursday was his cousin, Tre Ford, a former Hec Crighton Trophy winner and the eighth overall pick in the 2022 CFL draft by Edmonton. Ford quarterbacked Myer to three straight Ontario Federation of School Athletic Association bowl victories.
A few years ago, McCray said he wanted to become better than Ford but he is now focusing on his own path.
“He is a great player and it is always great to chase him and be compared to him. I am trying to make my own legacy and be great too.”
There were several university scouts at Thursday’s game but their presence was the last thing on McCray’s mind.
“I am thinking about winning the game.”
He gave credit to BT for playing the Irish tough.
“It was a hard-fought battle all the way to the end. They are a great team and they played a great game but we just happened to play better.”
McCray is looking forward to the rest of the playoffs.
“After our OFSAA win last year, that is all we want and that is all we are chasing right now. This is nice but we are on to the next one.”
A few weeks ago, one of McCray’s teammates was looking ahead and hoping for a strong opponent at OFSAA to boost the Irish’s provincial ranking. McCray isn’t of the same mindset.
“It is always one opponent at a time and we hope our next opponent is a great one.”
Notre Dame trailed 6-0 and 12-7 in the game but the Irish didn’t allow the Thunder to score again after the first play of the second quarter.
“We started slowly. They busted the first one and we had another where we just didn’t fill properly but at the end of the day I thought our defence played really, really well,” Bisci said. “They adjusted to things we had not see and not practised before against and our linebackers started filling in on it. I am really pleased with that.”
One thing he wasn’t thrilled about was his team’s 13 penalties for 145 yards in a game that got chippier as it went along.
“We play with a ton of emotion. Our guys are playing with their hearts on their sleeves,” Bisci said. “They let you know exactly how they feel and sometimes it gets the best of them. It’s a fine line that we have to stop but at the same time we will want to be emotional and play tough. If we can find that fine line, we are going to be a real tough team.”
Bisci felt his team received some good challenges from NCAA opponents this season in winning its third straight league title and fourth in the last five years.
“I think our league is really good. It is the same rhetoric from us every year. We seem to do well because the teams in our league get us ready for it.”
Hubbard proved prophetic about the game.
“It really goes back to the quote I said two weeks ago where I said we would have to play as close to mistake-free as possible if we were going to have a chance. A fumble on the one-year line didn’t help and then the next series they are punting on third down and we roughed the kicker. We also had an opportunity with a dropped interception.”
But there are better times ahead for a team that was led in 2022 by Grade 10 quarterback Johnny Breen.
“It was an excellent opportunity for him to learn being in his first championship game against an opposing quarterback of McCray’s nature. We have the film, we will study it and he will learn,” Hubbard said. “We have three 12Bs and we are anticipating we will have a lot of key players back next year.”
One of those is Grade 11 running back Jayden Gurzi-MacDonald, who scored on a pair of long runs.
“He is very good and we like the fact that he is young and has another year to mature. He is one our best players and he plays a key position,” Hubbard said. “I think the future is quite bright and the message at the end of the game, with the exception of the fellows who are moving on, is that we are a young team and we played against a team that had 12Bs in key positions and it showed.
“All the credit to them to execute from the key positions that are essential to maintaining drives, scrambling, breaking tackles, staying in bounds to run the clock down. There were smart plays by 12B players.”
Irish 34 Thunder 12
Cat’s Caboose Player of the Game: Notre Dame’s Marshall McRay with three rushing TDs and many big plays in key situations.
For the Notre Dame Fighting Irish: Marshall McCray, TD runs of one, nine and 10 yards; Dayshawn Johnson, 14-yard TD run; Jacob Tessier, seven-yard TD run; Cole Stewart and Ezra Sylvester, sacks; Patrick Scully, fumble recovery.
For the Blessed Trinity Thunder: Jayden Gurzi-MacDonald, TD runs of 46 and 40 yards; Aidan Sartor, great game returning kicks and punts; Blake Burgoyne, sack.
Game stats: Net offensive yards: Irish 453, Thunder 210. First downs: Irish 22, Thunder 7. Turnovers: Irish 1, Thunder 1. Penalties: Irish 13 for 145 yards, Thunder 11 for 75 yards.
Up next: Notre Dame advances to the SOSSA semifinals Nov. 16.