PORTSMOUTH — Notre Dame’s first two games this season were decided on their final play from scrimmage. This week, there was no drama needed.
The Titans (2-1) got four first-half touchdowns and 210 yards from junior Sam Kayser and cruised down the stretch in a 35-22 win over Grove City Christian.
“They hung in there and worked hard, in all three phases we had a really good effort tonight,” Titan head coach Bob Ashley said.
The Notre Dame offense came out of the locker room looking like a well-oiled machine. The Titans took over at their own 41 and quickly gashed their way down the field. They averaged six yards a carry over their 60-yard drive, keeping the chains in constant motion. Sam Kayser capped the drive with a seven-yard end-around sweep for his sixth touchdown of the season.
It was the big play that sparked the Titans on their next drive. On third-and-four, Kayser took a sweep around the far end, beat everyone to the edge and took it to the house to give Notre Dame a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter. He followed that run up with a 75-yard touchdown on another sweep on the Titans’ next play from scrimmage to increase the lead to 21-0.
But just when it seemed like the Titans couldn’t be stopped, Grove City (0-3) turned the tables. After a holding call put the Titans in a first-and-28 situation, quarterback Drew Cassidy dropped back and fired a pass to a receiver in the flats. But the ball bounced off his target’s fingertips and into the arms of the Eagles’ Caleb Sullivan. With no one in front of him, Sullivan waltzed into the end zone with a 40-yard return.
Just four plays later, Kayser struck again. He again took a jet sweep around the end and turned on the burners, and 43 yards later he was in the end zone with his fourth touchdown of the night.
At halftime, Kayser had totaled 183 yards and four touchdowns on just eight rushes.
“(Kayser) had a tremendous game, just an unbelievable effort by him,” Ashley said. “But I thought our guard Aaron Bazler; he had some unbelievable blocks and our wing Isiah Johnson did a good job as well. Offense was a total team effort tonight.”
Though Grove City seemed capable of moving the ball against the Titans, the Notre Dame defense always seemed to come up with a big play to keep the Eagles behind the sticks. Bazler came up with a number of those plays, including a big sack on Grove City’s final drive of the second quarter.
“Coming off giving up 54 points last week, we really emphasized taking care of the details,” Ashley said. “Bubba Webb, our defensive coordinator did a good job of stripping everything down and going back to basics.”
The momentum began to shift in the third quarter, as Grove City forced a recovered a Notre Dame fumble deep in its own territory. From there, the Eagles pieced together an 11-play, 66-yard drive that was capped off with a two-yard touchdown by Caleb Newkirk. Tavian Simm added the two-point conversion, and suddenly the Titan lead was down to just two possessions.
But Notre Dame answered right back with its own long drive. The Titans quickly moved deep in Eagle territory, but a fumbled snap threatened to put Notre Dame behind scheduled. However, on third-and-goal from the 16 yard line, Michael Collins took a jet sweep around the edge, broke a few tackles and reached the end zone to make it a 35-14 Titan lead.
Collins finished as Notre Dame’s second leading rusher with 22 carries for 158 yards.
Grove City Christian wouldn’t go down without a fight. Midway through the fourth quarter, they pieced together another lengthy drive, this one 83 yards on 13 plays. The key play came on a fourth-and-12 from the Titan 40, when Newkirk found some room to work and picked up a first down by the nose of the football. Three plays later, Newkirk finished it off with a nine-yard touchdown to make it 35-22 with 3:35 remaining.
But that is as close as the Eagles would come. Though the Titans’ couldn’t run on the clock on their next drive, Ben Mader came up with a game-clinching interception for Notre Dame with just over a minute remaining to seal the win.
The win gives Notre Dame momentum as they open SOC II play next week, when they host Eastern for the first time ever at Spartan Stadium.
“It’s a new opponent, so we don’t really know what to expect,” Ashley said. We’ve never played conference this early before, so there’s a lot of new things, but hopefully we can keep plugging along and get better every day.”
|Grove City Christian||0||7||8||7||—||22|
ND — S. Kayser 7 yd rush (D. Cassidy PAT) (7-0) (6:47)
ND — S. Kayser 34 yd rush (D. Cassidy PAT) (14-0) (11:00)
ND — S. Kayser 75 yd rush (D. Cassidy PAT) (21-0) (8:55)
GC — C. Sullivan 40 yd interception return (2 pt conversion no good) (21-6) (5:49)
ND — S. Kayser 43 yd rush (D. Cassidy PAT) (28-6) (3:24)
GC — C. Newkirk 2 yd rush (T. Simm 2 pt conversion) (28-14) (1:15)
ND — M. Collins 16 yd rush (D. Cassidy PAT) (35-14) (10:05)
GC — C. Newkirk 9 yd rush (T. Simm 2 pt conversion) (35-22) (3:53)
Passing — Grove City Christian: B. Baker 1-8-34; Notre Dame: D. Cassidy 0-1-0.
Rushing — Grove City Christian: T. Simm 22-142, C. Newkirk 17-84, C. Sullivan 1-4, K. Writesel 2-3, A. Reynolds 1-1, B. Baker 4-(-10); Notre Dame: S. Kayser 12-210, M. Collins 22-158, I. Johnson 11-62, D. Cassidy 4-(-6).
Receiving — Grove City Christian: C. Sullivan 1-34; Notre Dame: None.
Grove City Christian 0-3; Notre Dame 2-1.
Reach Alex Hider at 740-353-3101 ext. 1931 or on Twitter @PDTSportsWriter