LEVEL 3 PLAYOFFS: Notre Dame falls short on late touchdown
By Greg Bates
After scoring upsets — by their seed, anyway — in the opening two rounds of the playoffs, the Notre Dame Academy football team was playing with house money in Level 3.
The No. 7 seeded Tritons had another shot to pull off a road victory, but a late touchdown by host and top-seeded West Salem and an ensuing drive that stalled meant Notre Dame fell 21-14 in a WIAA Division 4 game on Friday night.
“It was about the game that we expected,” Notre Dame coach Mike Rader said. “We knew they were going to be a good, solid team in all phases of the game.
“Obviously, we started off with a kickoff return for a touchdown, and that’s never how you want to start a game. But we knew right from the start that we were going to be in for a battle, and it was a good high school football game. It came down to execution right at the end and they were able to pull off that nice quarterback throwback pass down in the red zone. When we needed to get the first down at the end of
the game, we were not able to execute.”
With the score tied 14-14, Notre Dame had the ball at its own 32. Looking to pass, quarterback Joe Otradovec was hit and the ball popped into the air and was intercepted by West Salem.
Taking over at the Notre Dame 35, West Salem (11-1) converted on a fourth-and-1 at the 25. On the next play, West Salem pulled out a little trickery as wide receiver Andy Johnson hit quarterback Brett McConkey for a 25-yard touchdown to put the Panthers up 21-14 with 4:43 remaining.
Notre Dame (8-4) started its next drive on its own 45. Ian Blom had an 8-yard run down to the West Salem 33. The Tritons faced a fourth-and-6 at the 29 and Otradovec had an open Ethan Wall-Atim, but the pass was overthrown for a turnover on downs.
“We got the ball and there was enough time on the clock that we didn’t have to go into a two-minute type offense and we were still able to run the ball and that’s where we had been most successful,”
Rader said. “We were going to do that and had a couple timeouts. Had we converted on that, we would have been whatever it was inside the 15 or so with a minute left. We would have had no timeouts, but
even there I still would have felt we would have had a few more opportunities at it.”
On the game’s opening kickoff, West Salem’s Brennan Kennedy ran it back for an 82-yard touchdown to get the home crowd excited.
However, Notre Dame answered on its first drive as Blom scored on a 1-yard touchdown plunge.
In a wild last half minute of the first half, McConkey connected with Kennedy for a 13-yard touchdown with just 24 seconds remaining to put West Salem up, 14-7.
The Tritons started on their 30 and Otradovec hit tight end James Flanigan and he raced 45 yards all the way down to the West Salem 25.
“With that much time there, we’re generally not an offense that’s going to air it out,” Rader said. “We were hoping to get the ball into Flanigan’s hands and usually good things happen when he gets it. The first one he was able to kind of sneak out the back end and catch the ball, break one or two tackles and extend what could have been a 20-yard gain into a 45-yard gain.”
Otradovec and Flanigan connected again, this time on a nice pass to the corner of the end zone for a 25-yard touchdown with just 3 seconds on the clock.
“It gave us momentum going into the half and the ball coming out of there,” Rader said. “We felt really good about where we were at at halftime.”
Christian Collins finished the night with 25 carries for 159 yards for Notre Dame. Blom added 64 yards on 17 attempts.
Otradovec was 4-for-13 passing for 71 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
“I told the guys that while a loss in the third round of the playoffs is something that should hurt and you should feel bad because if you care at all about the effort that you put into it any time you lose it should sting, and that’s OK,” Rader said. “We have to own that and learn and grow from that.
“We had a group of (19) seniors who did a phenomenal job all season long of being role models and playing the game the way that it should be played and doing it the way that we talk about in our program with faith, family, fundamentals and football. So, while the game didn’t go the way they want,
in the end they should be proud of everything they’ve accomplished, be proud of who they are as people and hopefully took something from this experience and will be better men in the future because of it.”