The Notre Dame Titans sure like to keep things interesting.
The Titans’ two games this season have been decided by a combined four points, and both games were decided on Notre Dame’s final play in regulation.
In week one, the Titans mounted a furious fourth-quarter comeback only to fall short to Racine Southern when running back Sam Kayser was stuffed on the one-yard line with 10 seconds left to play. Last week, kicker Drew Cassidy nailed a 31-yard field goal with no time remaining to give Notre Dame a 55-54 win over Manchester.
“I give our kids a lot of credit and I give our coaching staff a lot of credit for having our kids in shape and having them ready for everything,” Notre Dame head coach Bob Ashley said of his team’s fourth quarter play.
Last week, the Titans held a comfortable 14-point lead for much of the fourth quarter. But the Greyhounds scored two late touchdowns — and two two-point conversions — to take a two-point lead with less than a minute remaining in the game.
“We have to do a better job of starting out a little quicker, and once we do get a lead to maintain it,” Ashley said.
A big reason for the Greyhounds comeback? Poor tackling. According to Ashley, the Titans missed 29 tackles throughout last Friday’s game.
“You can’t do that and beat a quality team. We have to tackle better,” he said.
However, the Titans had Cassidy under center. The first-year starter led Notre Dame down the field for the final crucial drive, and finished the game going 3-for-5 through the air for 80 yards.
“He kept his poise and led our team down the field…he’s done a really nice job for us,” Ashley said.
But the Titans would have likely never had the chance for a game-winning field goal without the efforts of junior running back Sam Kayser. He touted the rock 19 times for 190 yards in last week’s game and scored five touchdowns.
Notre Dame has managed to turn up the intensity late in both of their games this season despite a lack of depth. The Titans list just 23 players on its roster, severely limiting the amount of substitutions they can make during a game. In fact, Ashley says that even practicing can be a challenge for Notre Dame this season.
“Practices are very difficult to simulate during the week. Offensively, we don’t see 11 men defensively until game night,” Ashley said. “The way they’ve handle that I think has been pretty remarkable.”
On Saturday, Notre Dame will seek revenge against a Grove City Christian team that beat them 43-32 last season. In that game, the Titans also held a sizeable fourth-quarter lead before the Eagles broke loose for three long touchdown runs to seal the win.
This season, the Titans will need to find a way to stop a power running attack featuring Eagle backs Caleb Newkirk and Tavian Sim.
“They’re really good at running downhill, and they’re probably going to just try and get physical with us up front,” Ashley said.
In addition to improved tackling and preventing the big play, Ashley says Saturday’s game will be won in the trenches.
“We have to match their toughness up front on both sides of the ball to have a chance,” he said.
Kickoff for Saturday’s game is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Spartan Municipal Stadium.
Reach Alex Hider at 740-353-3101 ext. 1931 or on Twitter @PDTSportsWriter