When any team takes the field, the one thing that any coach hopes to see from a program, especially one where the vast majority of its players are taking to a high school football field for the first time, is improvement.
Yes, the Notre Dame football program didn’t come out with the victory in its Saturday night opener against Racine Southern. Yes, the Notre Dame football program struggled to move the chains and control time of possession over most of the evening.
But throughout the course of the contest, veteran head coach Bob Ashley saw progress in his young Titans — and honestly, that’s all anyone can ask.
After trailing by a 41-0 tally with 5:31 to play in the opening half and only collecting 30 yards total over the first 18:29 — 18 of those yards coming on one run by Logan Emnett — Notre Dame was able to garner 97 yards over the final 29:31 en route to showing the Titan faithful the kind of progress that one will see throughout the season — an impressive fact considering that those 97 yards basically came through trial-by-fire.
For Bob Ashley, there’s nothing for his Notre Dame unit to be ashamed of — especially considering the circumstances.
“You can’t fault the effort,” Ashley said. “It’s just simply a lack of experience at this point in time. We’ve got to get a lot more physical, and everybody can tell that we don’t have a lot of varsity experience. Overall, however, the effort was there. Racine Southern was just a better ballclub tonight.”
As expected with a team of Notre Dame’s youth, the Titans had difficulty adjusting to the pace of how the game was played in what proved to be the first quarter of high school football for eight freshman on the 17-player roster, as well as the first game in a Notre Dame uniform for transfer Caleb Tindall.
The Titans were only able to run five plays over the first 6:29 of the game as a fumble on the very first play of the contest, as well as a fumble on the third kickoff return of the game for Notre Dame, allowed Racine Southern to jump out to a 21-0 lead during that same timespan behind a pair of touchdown runs from Riley Roush and a one-yard dive from Dylan Smith. Then, after a three-and-out and a 28-yard punt return by Smith, the 5-10, 160-pound back finished off what he started by scoring from two yards out to put the Tornadoes up by a 28-0 tally.
However, as the game went along, Notre Dame showed improvement. After obtaining a seven-yard run by Chase Matiz on first down during the Titans’ fourth offensive drive of the contest, Caleb Nichols and Ben Mader each ran for a yard on second and third down before Mader, on Notre Dame’s first attempt to convert a 4th-and-short on the season, busted through the line for five yards.
Then, after the drive stalled out, Notre Dame got the ball back following another touchdown from Roush and, behind the running ability of Emnett, got 18 yards out of the freshman after the 5-10, 145-pounder burst through the line of scrimmage for another first down. The freshman then added runs of five and three yards, respectively, on the next Titans’ offensive series following Roush’s fourth offensive touchdown of the night to take some positive building blocks heading into the halftime break.
“I believe that we got some of the jitters out as we got acclimated to the pace of the game,” Ashley said of the offensive performance by the Titans. “We settled down.”
In the second half, Notre Dame continued to show its progress on both sides of the football. After forcing Racine Southern into a three-and-out, Mader took off down the near sideline for 38 yards on the Titans’ first play from scrimmage, and Emnett ran for 22 yards over the three ensuing plays to get Notre Dame into the redzone. Then, after a nine-yard run by Matiz, Mader took the Titans all the way home as the junior went around the near size and scored from two yards out to set the final score with 3:54 remaining in the third quarter of play.
“We went into the locker room at halftime and said, ‘Let’s just try to do one thing at a time, take things one series at a time, and try to build from it,’” Ashley said. “We just wanted to try to get the initial stop defensively to start the second half, which we did, and then build from that and try to move the chains a little bit. Our guys came out and responded pretty well in the second half.”
For the contest, Mader and Emnett combined to rush for 118 yards on the evening, with Mader picking up 61 yards on 10 carries and Emnett gaining 57 additional tallies on eight totes. Roush led Racine Southern’s output with 195 yards and four touchdowns on just 10 carries while Smith added 33 yards and the Tornadoes’ two additional touchdowns on six carries. Weston Thorla collected 36 yards on four carries to round out the standout rushing efforts.
With the loss, Notre Dame, who will start the season at 0-1, will have to settle on making improvements as the season goes along.
But with its roster intact after Saturday evening’s contest and a collective team effort that showed in the Titans’ improvements, Ashley is looking forward to seeing how his youthful Titans will grow, especially as next week’s contest against Millersport draws closer.
“There’s another opportunity for us to grow next week (against Millersport),” Ashley said. “We’ve just got to come in, watch film, and be open to learning from and correcting our mistakes as a team. We’re going to make mistakes; we just lack that varsity experience. We’ll come in, look at the film, try to correct some things, and move on to next week. We came out very healthy tonight, and that’s a big key for us going forward.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @ColleyKevin7