Notre Dame's players and coaches took a good hard look at each other and themselves after last week's stinging, mistake-filled loss to Williams Field that knocked the Saints from the unbeaten ranks.
A championship season was still achievable, the Saints believed, but the first step forward would need to be a victory against defending East Sky Region champion Arcadia on Friday night.
The Saints (6-1, 3-1 East Sky Region) took advantage of early gale-force winds and capitalized on Titan turnovers to earn a 40-20 victory at Scottsdale Community College. The win keeps Notre Dame in the East Sky title hunt behind co-leaders Williams Field and Higley (both 4-0).
“This week we wanted to make sure we got everything in order and just played good, hard football,” Notre Dame coach Scot Bemis said. “It was a good bounce back. Our kids really responded this week. We had a good talk last Friday night in our locker room. The kids made a commitment and had a real good week in practice. We got a lot better this week.”
The Saints kept their strong ground game rolling. Korey Jones gained 196 yards in a losing cause last week, and he racked up 160 yards and three touchdowns in Friday's win. He has 853 yards on the season.
“That loss really put a fire under our butts,” Jones said. “We were coming out with a vengeance.”
And the defense set the tone early by forcing a quick three-and-out on Arcadia's first possession. The Titans were forced to punt directly into a gust, and Ross Richardson's punt stalled 9 yards past the line of scrimmage, giving Notre Dame the ball at the Titan 30. Five Jones runs later, the Saints owned a 6-0 lead.
Arcadia answered with a nifty 8-play, 80-yard drive, capped by Sosaia Maafu's 8-yard TD run to give the Titans their only lead at 7-6 midway through the first quarter.
Later in the quarter, a wind-aided punt pinned the Titans at their own 1, and they promptly coughed up the football on the first play. Luke Taffuri plunged in from the 1, giving Notre Dame a 13-7 edge and leaving Arcadia (5-2, 2-2) not the biggest fan of Friday's blowing dust storm.
“We had a couple of bad breaks early,” Titans coach Jim Ellison said. “We tried to bounce back from it, and we couldn't quite do it. If you can't stop them from scoring, we can't come back and win and that's kind of what happened.”
The Titans found it difficult to stop both Jones on the ground and Saints quarterback Jordan Gehrke's passing. Gehrke connected with Brian Canavan for a 59-yard scoring strike on the first play of the fourth quarter to put the game away at 33-7. Bemis poured in the reserves for the remainder of the game.
And now it's Arcadia that must try to bounce back from a tough loss. The Titans, who dropped a 20-7 decision to Higley two weeks ago, are also still in position to play in the postseason.
“We're still working toward the playoffs, and that's what we're going to do,” Ellison said.
Notre Dame finished with 383 yards and cleaned up its act with no turnovers, following last week's fumble-interception-penalty fest. Gehrke was 7-for-11 for 176 yards.
Arcadia accumulated 357 yards. Maafu led the way with 100 yards rushing and two scores on 13 carries. Quarterback Cole Richardson ran for 85 yards and threw for 104 (7-for-16). Bradley Tefft caught five passes for 71 yards.