PORTSMOUTH — Simply call it the Titans’ turnaround Take 2.
A week ago, Notre Dame played poorly early and trailed 10-0 at halftime at Fisher Catholic —before totally reversing course and scoring 35 second-half points en route to a runaway win.
And, apparently, Notre Dame head coach Bob Ashley utilized that blueprint for Friday night’s non-league but important Division VII Region 28 tilt against visiting Fayetteville.
That’s because the Titans, in a battle of 3-0 teams, trailed 21-7 only a minute and 46 seconds into the second half —only to turn around their fortunes again, scoring the final 20 points this time to ground the Rockets 27-21 inside historic Spartan Municipal Stadium.
That’s correct, as Notre Dame did it again.
“We used the reference from last week of just being down, but keeping your composure. A lot of the early mistakes, like last week, were self-inflicted. We told the guys we needed to clean things up a bit and we’ll be back in this ballgame,” said Ashley. “I thought our kids really responded well again.”
In the opening half, and similar to the Fisher Catholic first 24 minutes, the run-oriented Titans were their own worst offensive enemy —committing five penalties, losing a fumble near midfield, and only amassing 47 total yards on 23 plays.
They also fell early victim to Fayetteville standout quarterback Levi Wiederhold, who first engineered a 10-play, five first-down, 77-yard and five-and-a-half minute first-quarter scoring drive — capped off by the QB’s own 7-yard run.
Wiederhold then directed drives of nine plays, four first downs, 68 yards and three minutes; and eight plays, three first downs, 61 yards and a minute and 38 seconds — ending with a pair of nine-yard touchdown tosses.
With Dillon Cummings’ three of three extra-point kicks, and with Wiederhold hitting five separate receivers and amassing 206 passing yards to that point, the Titans trailed 21-7.
But like a week ago, cue a Titans’ turnaround — as only this time inside the former home of the NFL’s Detroit Lions, Notre Dame began to roar.
The Titans took over in all three phases, tied the game at 21-21 on the strength of starting back-to-back possessions in Fayetteville territory, and finally turned the Rockets over on downs before forcing Fayetteville’s only punt with 10 minutes remaining.
That set up Notre Dame’s go-ahead, and ultimately game-winning, scoring drive — an impressive 10-play, four first-down, 82-yard, six-minute and three-second march, capped off by a hard-charging 12-yard run by Gavin Hart, who had two touchdowns on the night.
From there, ND defensive end Carter Campbell came up with his second significant play against Wiederhold and intercepted him —before the Rockets imploded on their final possession, blown up by Dominic Sparks and an eight-yard loss on a second-down sack.
Wiederhold’s final pass of a massive 36 fell incomplete innocently enough, and with that, the Titans’ total turnaround took another giant step and continued on —setting off celebration on the Notre Dame sidelines.
“It was a total team effort in all three phases. Special teams came up big by recovering two onside kicks, and defensively, (NDHS assistant coach and defensive coordinator) Bubba Webb made some subtle adjustments and just kept them off-balance most of the second half,” said Ashley.
With the win, the Titans — two years ago of which went winless —raised their undefeated record to 4-0, and are off to their best start since 2013.
That was also the last season in which Notre Dame qualified for the state playoffs, as Friday’s win was colossal in terms of the Region 28 computer ratings —which are officially released for the first time this year by the Ohio High School Athletic Association on Tuesday.
According to the unofficial yet highly-respected rankings website www.joeeitel.com, the Titans stayed second behind only state powerhouse Marion Local, while the Rockets dipped from third to seventh.
The win was also the first in ND’s decade-long series against Fayetteville since 2016 —when the Titans went 7-3 and last enjoyed a winning season.
Notre Dame also won the first two meetings in 2010 and 2011, which were the Blue and Gold’s season openers those years — as the two did not play in 2012, 2013 or the coronavirus-impacted 2020 campaign.
With the expansion of the OHSAA playoffs to 16 teams per region, it’s quite possible these two could meet again —and will once again see a stark contrast in styles.
Wiederhold completed 19-of-36 passes for 242 yards and those two touchdowns, part of the Rockets’ 276 passing yards total —but he was only 8-of-22 in the second half, and threw for only 36 yards after the Rockets’ final scoring drive.
Wiederhold, with five wide receivers catching four passes apiece, was a running threat as well as a short screen and in-the-flats thrower —rushing a dozen times for 27 yards.
But twice the Titans intercepted him, including in the second stanza to set up the first game-tying score.
Notre Dame dialed up more pressure on Wiederhold as well, recording several sacks and spearheaded by Sparks.
“They (Rockets) have a nice scheme with getting the ball out of the quarterback’s hands quickly. They have a bunch of skilled kids around him that complemented him. We didn’t get to him as much as we wanted to early, but I think we did frustrate him,” said Ashley. “We did what we had to do to keep everything underneath us and not let the deep ball beat us.”
At the 10-minute mark, a Wiederhold pass was batted up by the all-Southeast District defensive end Carter and intercepted by the 6-7 Sparks —putting the Titans in business at the Rocket 28-yard line.
Six plays and three minutes and nine seconds later, at the 6:47 juncture, Hart was in the end zone from a yard out —following his initial carries of nine and five yards and a Wyatt Webb nine-yard completion to Cody Metzler to the goal line.
Dylan Seison twice tied the game with two of his three extra points, as the Titans took excellent advantage of field position all game.
Trailing 21-7, the ensuing Rocket kickoff only went to midfield, where freshman Myles Phillips stepped up and beautifully fielded the pigskin —taking it to the Fayetteville 35.
Hart had carries of seven and six yards sandwiched around a Metzler five-yard gain, as Webb completed a 17-yard touchdown strike to a wide open tight end Campbell —who made a nice one-handed snag as he hit paydirt.
Webb completed 3-of-5 passes for 22 yards with an interception, and although the wing-T Titans don’t throw much, they hit a huge score when they needed it — with eight-and-a-half minutes left in the third quarter.
“We caught their safety cheating a little bit on the motion, so we decided to pull up and Wyatt Webb called his own play on that one,” said Ashley. “He did a real nice job finding Carter wide open.”
But, Notre Dame wasn’t done.
The Titans’ next drive started and ended with Seison, who successfully executed an onside kick — as the Titans took possession again at the Rocket 46.
They drove seven plays in only three minutes and six seconds — as Hart had a 14-yard gain to the 32, Seison took a jet sweep from the 28 to the 15, and finally Seison scored from five yards out on another jet sweep call —this one in which Seison cut short and turned up inside at the 5:18 point.
His third of three extra-point kicks forged the 21-21 tie, as the Titan defense continued to force second-half incomplete passes by Wiederhold.
Finally, the Rockets punted for the first time after going for it on multiple fourth down snaps — as the 37-yard punt set Notre Dame up at its own 18.
In that subsequent 10-play march, the Rockets were whistled for a 15-yard face-mask penalty, followed by Hart pickups of seven, six and 24 yards to the Fayetteville 17 — mixed in with Webb keeping it for 13 yards and a Metzler reverse run for 11.
Hart, who erupted for an impressive 176 yards on a hefty 27 carries including for 131 second-half yards on 16 totes, hit the middle hole hard — and pulled two or three tacklers with him — on 3rd-and-5 from the 12.
He hit the end zone with 3:44 remaining, putting the Titans in front 27-21 —and ultimately for good.
And thus, given the Titans’ two defensive stops in the final two-and-a-half minutes, the monumental Titans’ turnaround —of two years ago and two games this season —certainly lives on.
Friday’s come-from-behind thriller was actually Notre Dame’s fourth game in less than three full weeks, but even these tired Titans proved triumphant.
“We didn’t have a very good week of practice, and that showed with a sloppy first half again. We have a lot of things to clean up on, some silly penalties and other mistakes,” said Ashley. “But we just hung in there, played better in the second half, made some adjustments in all three phases and found a way to win again.”
Notre Dame’s next game is back at Spartan Municipal Stadium on Saturday night —when the Titans try for 5-0 in their final non-conference affair of 2021, against Zanesville Rosecrans.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m., as the contest highlights Homecoming activities at Notre Dame High School.
* * *
Fayetteville 7 7 7 0 —21
Notre Dame 0 7 14 6—27
F — Levi Wiederhold, 7-yard run (Dillon Cummings kick), 2:18, 1st (7-0 F)
ND — Gavin Hart, 1-yard run (Dylan Seison kick), 6:47, 2nd (7-7 tie)
F — Tyler Tipis, 9-yard pass from Levi Wiederhold (Dillon Cummings kick), 3:39, 2nd (14-7 F)
F— Damion Kistler, 9-yard pass from Levi Wiederhold (Dillon Cummings kick), 10:14, 3rd (21-7 F)
ND — Carter Campbell, 17-yard pass from Wyatt Webb (Dylan Seison kick), 8:26, 3rd (21-14 F)
ND — Dylan Seison, 5-yard run (Dylan Seison kick), 5:18, 3rd (21-21 tie)
ND — Gavin Hart, 12-yard run (kick failed), 3:44, 4th (27-21 ND)
First downs 17 15
Scrimmage plays 51 52
Rushes-yards 14-36 47-218
Passing yards 276 22
Total yards 312 240
Cmp-Att-Int. 20-37-2 3-5-1
Fumbles-lost 1-1 3-1
Penalties-yards 11-100 11-79
Punts-Ave 1-37 3-25
RUSHING —Fayetteville: Levi Wiederhold 12-27 TD, Jayden Bradshaw 1-7, Blake Coffman 1-2; Notre Dame: Gavin Hart 27-176 2TD, Cody Metzler 8-33, Nolan Heiland 3-12, Wyatt Webb 4-3, Dylan Seison 2-18 TD, Beau Hobbs 1-0, Team 2-(-24)
PASSING — Fayetteville: Levi Wiederhold 19-36-2-242 2TD, A.J. Attinger 1-1-0-34; Notre Dame: Wyatt Webb 3-5-1-22 TD
RECEIVING— Fayetteville: Damion Kistler 4-81 TD, Jayden Bradshaw 4-70, Blake Coffman 4-50, Anden Doane 4-42, Tyler Tipis 4-33 TD; Notre Dame: Carter Campbell 1-17 TD, Cody Metzler 1-9, Dylan Seison 1-(-4)
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @paulboggssports © 2021 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved