They were Knights-out
Unstoppable was the operative word to describe Sherman Oaks Notre Dame’s no-huddle, spread offense that had helped the Knights reel off 11 consecutive victories.
Except that their Pac-5 Division quarterfinal opponent Friday night, Orange Lutheran, welcomed the challenge.
“Our defense is very good,” cornerback Davonte Anderson said.
Now the rest of Southern California knows it too after the Lancers shut down the Knights’ passing game in a 24-14 victory at Santa Ana Stadium.
Gabe Lemon’s interception at the goal line with just over three minutes left in the third quarter when the game was tied, 14-14, set the stage for Lutheran (10-2) to pull away and earn a semifinal berth next Saturday against Rancho Santa Margarita Tesoro.
Parker Flynn’s 33-yard field goal with 10:02 left gave Lutheran its first lead of the game, 17-14. Then Donyae Fields scored on a seven-yard run with 5:46 left.
The combination of Lutheran’s defense and an offense that consumed lots of time with an effective option attack left Notre Dame surprisingly out of options.
“Their secondary is good,” Notre Dame Coach Kevin Rooney said. “We were having trouble with pass protection.”
Quarterback Ryan Kasdorf, who came in with 3,163 yards passing and 36 touchdowns, completed eight of 19 passes for 133 yards. Receiver James Flynn, who had 19 touchdown receptions, didn’t catch a pass.
That’s a tribute to cornerbacks Lemon and Anderson, both of whom were tested during Trinity League play by the likes of Matt Barkley of Santa Ana Mater Dei and Keith Price of Bellflower St. John Bosco.
Add to that the fact that defensive coordinator Thurmond Moore put together the perfect game plan, giving up a few yards rushing but making sure that Kasdorf and his receivers didn’t beat them.
“We’ve been in a lot of Pac-5 Division playoff games the last three years,” Coach Jim Kunau said.
That experience may have been the difference, along with Notre Dame’s failure to figure out how to stop the option play.
The first half ended in a 14-14 tie. Lutheran’s Flynn made a 34-yard field goal with 16 seconds left, but Notre Dame was called for a personal foul. The Lancers took the penalty, and Kyle Dravis scored on a nine-yard run to tie the score.
Notre Dame’s defense gave up 212 yards rushing in the first half and seemed confused. The Knights kept tackling the fullback on the initial fake handoff, allowing quarterback Bobby Wheatley to roam the field at will and get the ball to Exavier Edwards and Dravis.
Edwards, a talented junior who has been largely quiet this season because of injury and illness, was back at full strength and showed how good a player he is. He rushed for 121 yards and gives the Lancers speed and big-play ability in the backfield.
Lutheran gained more than 300 yards rushing.
Lutheran’s defense was able to prevent Notre Dame from scoring on its first two possessions, but the Knights got into high gear behind running back Kenny Boggs, who had 96 yards rushing in the first half, including a 33-yard touchdown run. But Boggs finished with 101 yards.
There’s no denying the importance of Lemon’s interception.
Notre Dame was driving toward a possible go-ahead touchdown. It was second down on Lutheran’s 46. Kasdorf tried to throw deep to Flynn, who didn’t see the pass. Lemon swooped in, came up with the ball and returned it to the 25.
“It was the turning point,” Kunau said.