With fast-paced, no-huddle spread offenses having become increasingly in vogue at the high school level Notre Dame coach Lewis Cook Jr. said there’s been no shortage of variations his defenses have seen over the years.
That is, until now.
When No. 4 Notre Dame (9-2) visits No. 1 University High (11-0) the Division II state semifinal will be a classic matchup of a stingy defense trying to slow down or limit the production of a prolific offense.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. Friday at Richard Gill Stadium-Jeff Boss Field.
“It’s a huge challenge for us,” Cook said of U-High’s offense that averages 42.5 points. “We’ve seen those types of attacks, but no one we’ve played in a while has had the quality of running back, a quarterback of that caliber and two or three guys on the outside that can run away from you if you’re not there quick enough.”
Notre Dame, led by its veteran and disruptive defensive front, features a defense that’s allowed 19 points during a six-game win streak and nine rushing TDs all season long.
The Pioneers are yielding 11.9 points for the season, and 159.5 total yards led by the 1-2 interior tandem of defensive tackle Connor Kirsch and Louisiana-Monroe commitment Nate Link at defensive end — both players with 58 tackles.
Defensive back Hayden Bourgeois leads the team with five interceptions, two of which he’s returned for touchdowns.
Where U-High, last year’s state runner-up, really administers pressure to opposing defense is with a diversified attack directed by senior quarterback Manny Miles, son of LSU coach Les Miles.
Manny Miles has completed 100 of 143 passes for 1,586 yards with 21 touchdowns and only one interception.
“It’s hard to pressure him because he’s not holding it that long,” said Cook, whose team has 43 sacks on the year. “You better get out there, get on them and tell your guys to run to the ball. If they get loose, it’s going to be hard for us to run them down.”
Senior running back Nick Brossette, an LSU commitment, is the Cubs’ main threat on the ground with 163 rushes for 1,393 yards and 21 touchdowns.
Miles’ top receiving threats are junior Tre Jackson (38 catches for 752 yards and eight 8 TDs), a Florida commitment, and senior Jake Wharton (24-409, 5 TDs).
“Over the last 10 years in 3A it’s been either Parkview or Notre Dame or both of them have made it,” U-High coach Chad Mahaffey said. “That’s kind of who you had to go through to win the title. They’re certainly used to being in this position, probably more than we are. It should be an outstanding matchup.”
Notre Dame counters with an offense that would love time-consuming drives that produce points at the same time.
The Pios have a three-year starter at quarterback in Brad Stoma, who has completed 79 of 126 passes for 1,234 yards and 15 TDs, to go along with running backs Damon Comeaux (101-928, 16 TDs) and Lance Bertrand (97-663, eight TDs).
Wide receiver Boedy Borill (21-394, five TDs) and tight end Ethan Smith (15-178, two TDs) are Stoma’s chief targets.
“Everyone talks about their offense, but they’re sound and don’t create any gaps on defense,” Cook said. “You’ve got to block them.
“The challenge is not only stopping them but figuring out how to move it. Controlling it is nice but no one’s seemed to be able to do it against them this year.”