LEVEL 2 PLAYOFFS: Defense shines for Notre Dame in upset victory
BY Greg Bates
MENASHA – The Notre Dame Academy football team’s defense has proven its worth game in and game
out this season.
None bigger was its performance in a WIAA Division 3 Level 2 playoff contest on Friday night.
In the hostile environment of Calder Stadium in Menasha — where their season came to an end in the second round of postseason last season — the Tritons played lights out.
No. 7 seed Notre Dame forced four critical turnovers and stopped a potential game-winning drive with under two minutes remaining as it escaped with a 26-21 victory over state-ranked and No. 3-seeded Menasha.
“They did kind of what they do most of the time,” Notre Dame Academy coach Mike Rader said about
his defense. “We’ve had a really good year on defense, and they’ve been making plays when they need
to. We knew what we needed to do against Menasha. They’re a phenomenal team and they run the ball
very well. If we can get them out of the run and have them throw the ball around, they’re just not as
experience throughout the year doing that, and that’s kind of what we were hoping to happen and
that’s what happened.”
“Our defense played lights out, it was amazing,” Notre Dame running back Christian Collins said.
Just four weeks earlier, Menasha eked out a 28-21 win at home to essentially wrap up the Fox River
Classic Conference-South title.
In that game, Menasha quarterback AJ Korth ran for 177 yards. In Friday’s game, Notre Dame all but
eliminated Korth as a running threat and dared him to beat them through the air.
“We had a very good gameplan from our coaches, honestly,” Notre Dame defensive back Joey Hoerning
said. “Coach Gio (Tony Giovanetti) really got us right. It was the gameplan and we did everything we
needed to do.”
Korth came into the game with 22 touchdown passes and just two interceptions this season. Notre
Dame’s relentless defense picked off Korth three times, including two in the first quarter by Hoerning.
Notre Dame (8-3) used Hoerning’s first pick to score on its first drive of the game. Collins had an 8-yard
touchdown to put his team up 6-0.
Menasha (9-2) worked its way down into the red zone on its next series. Facing third-and-goal at the 15,
Korth threw a fade into the end zone where Hoerning stepped in front of a Bluejays receiver for a drive-
On the very next play, Tritons running back Ian Blom took a handoff and went straight up the middle
untouched for an 80-yard touchdown. The visiting team was quickly up 13-0 just 10 minutes, 25 seconds
into the contest.
It was a gut-punch to Menasha, ranked No. 3 in Division 3 in the final regular-season WisSports.net
“We shut them down in the run and we had a good defense for the pass, and we came out like we
wanted to,” Hoerning said.
With a shot to cut its deficit, the Bluejays drove all the way down to the red zone again, but turned the
ball over on downs, this time at the 13-yard line.
Coming out of halftime with the ball and two-touchdown lead, Notre Dame’s offense went four-and-out.
The Tritons were forced to punt, and a host of Menasha special teamers blocked the kick and Cole
Calkins got the loose ball and scored from 25 yards out.
Suddenly, the game had a totally different feel at 13-7.
Notre Dame punted again on its next drive. Two plays into Menasha’s series, a bad snap eluded Korth
and Notre Dame defensive lineman Stanley Smith scooped up the ball and raced to the end zone for a
29-yard touchdown. The defensive score gave the Tritons a 19-7 advantage.
Early in the fourth quarter, Korth hit Evan VanDynHoven for a 37-yard touchdown to cut it to 19-14.
But, again, Notre Dame had an answer. Collins took a handoff, eluded tacklers and raced 59 yards for a
Menasha didn’t have an answer all night to stop Collins and Blom, who both ran for over 100 yards.
“It’s a killer duo,” Collins said. “We just go 1,000% no matter what.”
Notre Dame linebacker Jack Berndt corralled an interception at the 8-yard line as Menasha had another
drive stall in the red zone.
On the Bluejays’ next series, Korth had his most productive runs of the game. He gained 20 yards on four
carries, including a 3-yard touchdown to make it 26-21 with 3:16 remaining in the fourth quarter.
With a chance to close out the win, Notre Dame’s offense sputtered with a three-and-out.
Menasha got the ball back on its 22 with 2:13 left. Nearing midfield, Joe Hackl sacked Korth and an
incomplete pass set up a fourth-and-7 on the 43. Korth stepped up to run, but Smith — the touchdown
scorer the previous quarter — pulled down the quarterback for no gain.
With Menasha turning the ball over on downs, the Notre Dame players and coaches celebrated the
“This is a great win,” Collins said. “It’s just incredible. This atmosphere’s awesome.”
“Massive win,” Hoerning said. “This is probably the fourth, fifth time we’ve been here in like a year or
Well, it was Notre Dame’s third trip to Menasha in the last 364 days but its first victory.
Coach Rader knew going into the game his guys were amped with revenge on their minds and their
season hanging in the balance.
“I’ve been talking about it all (week) with our kids is when you get to this point in the playoffs,
everybody’s motivated,” Rader said. “You really don’t have to work really hard to get extra motivation,
but some of our kids are extra motivated because we get to play Menasha again, some of them get extra
motivated because we were the 7 seed. I said, ‘I don’t care what motivates you.’ It’s just fun playing
with the guys another week. I said, ‘Whatever it takes. Whatever tugs at your motivational strings, go
ahead and have it, man. Let’s go play a game.’”
Notre Dame played its ideal game, and it is guaranteed at least one more game this season.
The Tritons will head to top-seeded West Salem next Friday night in Level 3. The Panthers, ranked No. 5
in Division 4, have won 10 games in a row following their 35-14 victory over Fox Valley Lutheran in Level