by Robert Yowell
September 30, 2016 (Scottsdale, AZ) – The Notre Dame Prep Saints (4-2, 1-0) earned a historic 1st varsity football win Friday night over their rival Chaparral Firebirds (2-4, 0-1) with a 41-36 comeback win at Scottsdale Community College. The Saints erased a 30-20 Chaparral lead in the 3rd quarter with 21 unanswered points to seize control of the game. RBs Cole Fisher and Jake Smith led the way with 3 TDs each, and LB Keegan Bafus delivered a big defensive play with an interception in the end zone late in the game to thwart a Firebird rally. The win was also the first 5A East Valley section game and gives the Saints an early advantage with 3 section games remaining.
The Saints knew this game would play a critical part in determining the champion for the 5A East Valley section. An exchange of punts in each team's first possession was followed by two different scoring drives, with the Saints getting on the board first courtesy of Fisher's 87yd TD run on the first play for a 6-0 lead. Chaparral answered with a 16-play, 69yd drive ending with a QB Grayson Barry to TE Ryan Kleifield 10yd TD pass and a 7-6 lead after the 1st quarter. The Firebirds would increase their lead to 10-6 on their next possession with a 27yd FG from K Anthony Mosharrafa. The Saints would answer after a well-designed screen pass from QB Kylan Weisser to Fisher covered 44yds and a Weisser 29yd run seat up 1st & goal at the Firebird 6. Jake Smith's 6yd TD run and K Clay Donaghey PAT returned the lead to the purple and gold 13-10. Chaparral wasted little time going 83yds in 2 plays thanks to Barry's 53yd strike to WR Beau Kelly and a 20yd TD run by RB Marqui Johnson to make the score 17-13. The Saints punted on the ensuing series and Barry found WR Anthony Salazar for a 32yd TD pass on the first play to increase the Firebirds' lead to 23-13. The Saints needed to answer with points before the half with Chaparral receiving the 2nd half kick, so the offense moved quickly to the NDP 40 on a Weisser to WR Blake Storey connection. QB Cameron Yowell stepped in under center and appeared to catch the Firebirds defense asleep and promptly found WR Jordan Stengel for a 22yd pass down the middle of the field. Two plays later, Yowell's 19yd back shoulder pass to Smith in the right corner of the end zone cut the Chaparral lead to 23-20 at the half.
The Firebirds remained hot to start the 3rd quarter, taking advantage of a roughing the kicker penalty on the Saints to keep the drive alive, and Barry's 3rd TD pass of the night was a 51yd pass to WR Robby Kriske moved the lead back to 10 at 30-20. The Saints drove down deep into Firebirds territory thanks to another Yowell to Stengel for 29yds, but Donaghey's 34yd FG was blocked ending the threat. But the Saints defense forced a quick Chaparral punt and the offense took over near midfield. Four plays later, Fisher's 14yd TD run was cutting the Firebirds' lead to 30-27 and momentum had shifted. Another defensive stand yielded a punt back to the Saints offense. Fisher once again found plenty of room to gash the Chaparral defense thanks to tremendous Oline blocking and dashed 66yds for his 3rd TD run of the game, this time giving the Saints a lead they would not relinquish at 34-30. As the 3rd quarter came to a close, the Saints defense, behind DT Vic Annereno and DE Kyle White, sacked Barry resulting in a third straight punt to an offense that was heating up! Yowell scrambled for two first downs and the Saints drew a pass interference to move into the red zone with a chance to deliver a knockout punch. And they did not disappoint as Smith added his 2nd rushing TD and 3rd overall from 20yds out and pushed the lead to 41-30. Chaparral made a final push needing two scores to win and sat 1st & goal at the NDP 1-yard line, but that's when Bafus picked off Barry in the end zone to erase the opportunity and give the Saints offense at their own 3-yard line. Chaparral was forced to spend all their timeouts on defense, and managed to score with under two minutes to play to provide the final margin of 41-36. Once the Saints recovered the onside kick, it was time for victory formation.
Another 300+ yard rushing night by the Saints and continued improvement on defense indicate the Saints are gearing up for the stretch. With the historic win secured, the Saints have a short week to prepare for their second section game on Thursday night against the Paradise Valley Trojans (2-5, 0-1). The Trojans have handed Notre Dame some bitter defeats over the past few years, so the Saints will be looking to return the favor. The game will be played at Bemis Field and televised on Cox 7 TV with a kickoff slated for 7pm.