September 9, 2016 (Phoenix, AZ) – The Notre Dame Prep Saints (3-1) traveled to face Catholic school rival St. Mary's (1-3) at Phoenix College and came away with a thrilling 38-28 comeback win over the Knights. DB Ricky Manning's 30yd INT return for a TD early in the 4th quarter gave the Saints their first lead of the game after trailing by as much as 17pts on the night. Special teams added two crucial touchdowns on a night where the Saints overcame 4 turnovers and a well-prepared opponent. RB Cole Fisher rushed for 109yds and added over 100 return yards, including a 75yd KO return for a TD, while RBs Jake Smith (62yds) and Drew Jackse (44yds/TD) combined for 106yds to complete the Saints rushing attack.
After missing what the press coined the "Catholic Clash" on last year's schedule, the Saints and Knights renewed the rivalry with two head coaches getting their first taste of this gridiron battle. The Knights struck first, literally – on the first play from scrimmage – as QB Daniel Meador dashed 60yds past the Saints defense for a TD and a 6-0 lead after the missed PAT. An exchange of punts gave the Saints a chance to even the score as QB Kylan Weisser moved the offense deep into Knights territory with a 30yd pass to WR Blake Storey. After a holding call on the Saint wiped out another big Storey gain, Knights DB/WR Jorden Blake stepped in front of a Weisser pass intended for WR Justin Malchek and returned the interception 99yds for a touchdown. The 2pt conversion gave the Knights a 14-0 lead. Weisser responded on the following possession driving the Saints back into the Knights' red zone and set up K Clay Donaghey 32yd FG to cut the margin to 14-3 at the end of the 1st quarter. The Knights still showed confidence in their next drive, executing a fake punt to keep the chains moving into Saints territory. Feeling the need to keep scoring touchdowns against a Saints team capable of producing points, the Knights went for it on 4th down instead of kicking a FG and the Saints defense was up to the task. However, two plays later, the Saints turned the ball over for the 2nd time when a backwards pass from Weisser to Fisher ended up on the ground and the Knights recovered on the NDP 10. A Meador to Blake TD pass and PAT gave the Knights their largest lead of the night at 21-3. On the ensuing kickoff, Fisher fielded the squib kick at the NDP 25 and looked for space to run up the right side of the field. Finding a seam in the Knights' coverage and a few key blocks from the Saints return unit, Fisher broke free along the NDP sideline and sprinted pass the remaining green jerseys for a 75yd TD return. Donaghey's PAT made the score 21-10, but Fisher's run sent a message that this Saints team was not going down without a fight. The Saints defense behind DE Kyle White and DT Collin Taylor forced a 3-and-out by the Knights on their next possession, giving the Saints one more opportunity before the half. Runs by Fisher and a Weisser to Storey connection moved chains into Knights territory and two more 1st downs set up a 1st and goal with 30 seconds left in the half. On 3rd & goal, Weisser found Jackse for a 5yd TD pass and Donaghey's PAT sent the Saints into halftime trailing 21-17 and momentum on their side.
The Saints received the 2nd half kickoff and looked to carry over the positive play that closed out the half. But the Knights had other plans and picked off Weisser for the 2nd time just three plays into the 3rd quarter. But the Saints defense rose up again, this time it was DE Nick Wilson dropping Meador for a big loss and forcing a punt that was downed at the NDP 13. On the next play, Weisser's pass was deflected by Knights standout DE Ouda Isobor and intercepted at the NDP 4. The Knights capitalized with Meador sneaking in from the 1 to give St Mary's a 28-17 lead. The Saints turned to QB Cameron Yowell to ignite a comeback and Smith opened the drive with a 25yd run into Knights territory. But a sack of Yowell by Isodor on 3rd down forced a Donaghey punt, which the senior kicker sent spiraling into the sky towards the Knights return man inside the 5yd line. With the Saints punt coverage team closing in, the Knights returner muffed the kick and senior LB Devonne Flowers recovered the ball in the end zone for an improbable touchdown. Smith's run for the 2pt conversion closed the gap to 28-25 and the Saints sideline felt the momentum swing back to the team in gold helmets. The Knights looked to mount a drive to stabilize their team and hold off an inspired Saints unit, but LB Jarod Aber forced a fumble and Fisher recovered at the NDP 42. The Saints relied on the legs of Fisher, Smith and Jackse to move into Knights territory for the go-ahead score, but the St. Mary's defense stopped the Saints on 4th down to takeover at their own 22. Then it was the Saints defense turn to light up the scoreboard, and when Manning stepped in front of Meador's 3rd down pass he found a clear path to the end zone to put Notre Dame Prep in the lead for the first time in the game. Donaghey's PAT made the score 32-28 and the upset bid by the Knights had taken a serious blow. Not letting up was the Saints defense on the next series as they forced another 3-and-out punt by the Knights offense. The Saints offense then delivered the closeout drive, a 9-play, 67yd scoring drive that featured all running plays by Yowell, Fisher, Smith and Jackse behind the NDP O-line. Jackse covered the final 9yds for the score, capping 21 unanswered points by the Saints for a 38-28 lead. As desperation set in for the Knights, the Saints defense was still looking to eat and FS Alex Nyberg picked off a Meador pass and returned it to the Knights 10. Donaghey's only blemish was his 25yd FG attempt sailing wide right. Another Nyberg interception would end the hopes of a valiant St. Mary's team and secured a hard fought victory for the Saints.
With the win, the Saints improved to 3-1 heading into the BYE week and give the team a chance to heal the bumps and bruises from the first four games. The heart of this Saints team continues to beat stronger each week and its identity as a power running team is starting to emerge with a three-headed RB attack and a nasty bunch of offensive lineman. The defense forced 4 turnovers and special team delivered two score on a night where all were needed for the win. The team looks forward to the return of WR Jordan Stengel into the rotation and sets its sights on hosting LaSalle HS from Pasadena, CA at Bemis Field on Friday September 23 at 7pm.