A strong run defense helped carry Notre Dame through a 7-1 season and into the Class D Section V finals, but against a Dundee team with a great running back and some well designed plays, the Fighting Irish defenders reminded no one of a picket fence.
Too many turnovers didn't help either.
Final score: 76-13.
But maybe the numbers that mattered most in deciding who won and who lost were those amassed by Steve Webb for Dundee, who had 176 yards on 12 carries for an average of 13.8 yards per carry. Webb scored four touchdowns, including one on a 23-yard punt return. He also had two receptions for another 75 yards.
Webb and fellow running back Ryan Ballard proved a deadly combo for the Irish. Ballard also scored three touchdowns, one on a kickoff return, one on a run from scrimmage and another on a pass reception. Ballard rushed for 131 yards.
All told, Dundee gained 359 on the ground and only 29 through the air.
Dundee head coach Sheldon Gibson said some of the team's success on the ground against Notre Dame could be attributed to good scouting.
"We’ve seen them three times live," Gibson said. "We kind of picked up on some things. We found a couple of angles and we exploited them. Basically, when you have a speed demon like Webb, he’s hard to catch, and with Ballard being so strong, I mean having those two in the backfield is quite a plus for us."
The game started promising for the Irish. After winning the coin toss and deferring its kickoff decision until the second half, Notre Dame was able to quickly squelch Dundee's first drive. The offense then took the field and behind the running of Mike Pratt were able to move the ball about 80 yards down field for the first score of the game.
Disaster struck on the ensuing kickoff however, when Ballard returned the ball the length of the field for Dundee's first score. Gibson characterized the play as a game changer, one that helped his team get its balance back and allow it to start focusing on its game plan.
"Ballard's got a lot of desire," Gibson said. "He’s worked very hard. He’s a student of the game and that changed a lot."
On its next series, Notre Dame committed the first of its six turnovers (two fumbles and four interceptions). Two plays later, Ballard struck again with a seven-yard TD reception.
From that point forward in the game, Notre Dame's defense would spend a lot of time looking at the back sides of Ballard and and Webb, as well as receiver Kyle Spinks, who added two touchdowns.
Dundee's 11 touchdowns helped make it a big night for Katie Zebrowski, the only girl playing Section V football this year. Zebrowski made 10 of her 11 point-after attempts, which is a new Section V record.
"You can't turn over the football," Notre Dame Head Coach Rick Mancuso said. "If they had turned over the football as much as we did, the score would have been just as lopsided the other way."
As it got into the fourth quarter and the score was 56-7, the chatter in the press box was about Dundee running up the score. Dundee started the fourth quarter with all of its starters still in the game.
Some Notre Dame fans, both online in The Batavian's live chat about the game and after the game, shared a similar disgruntled opinion.
Mancuso didn't see it that way.
"From my standpoint, I've always thought, you know, they were trying to get some sectional records and things of that nature," Mancuso said. "That doesn't bother me. I mean, God bless them, whatever they wanted to do is fine. It doesn't matter to me. Hey, if you want to stop somebody, you've got to stop them on the field. That's the way I look at it, and we didn't do that."
Gibson said that on the Dundee sideline, there was no intention to run up the score.
"When we're picking off passes and running things back and the two team scored those last two touch downs," Gibson said. "The second defense blocked that punt, I mean, we didn't have a block on. The second defense did that. It's tough to stop those kids, to tell them not to do that. We kept the ball on the ground."
There was one highlight for the Irish in the fourth quarter. On a pass play that sent Gianni Zambito on a relatively short route, Zambito managed to get a step on his lone defender. Tom Whelehan in as quarterback, hit Zambito with a perfectly timed strike, so that Zambito didn't have to break stride. The fleet receiver then raced his defender toward the goal line. Two Dundee defenders each managed to get a hold of his jersey at about the five yard line, but Zambito kept his legs moving and pulled them toward the end zone until he got just close enough to stick both arms straight out, ball still in his hands, and put the ball over the end zone for Notre Dame's second touch down.
It wasn't enough to bring the game within reach, but it let everybody know there was still plenty of fight left in the Irish.
Photographs by Bare Antolos. For more photos, click here.