Unquestioned masters of the quick-strike offense this season, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish unveiled a new weapon in the team's arsenal Friday night against state-ranked Class A power Coalfield.
The homestanding Irish, whose first two scoring drives took a total of 90 seconds, secured a 21-14 victory over the Yellow Jackets by executing a methodical,58-yard drive -- achieving a goal that had been the focus of this week's practice.
"The majority of our scores have been big plays, and we really haven't consistently moved the ball down the field and put it in the end zone," said Notre Dame coach Charles Fant. "We really worked hard on that part of our game this week.
"And at the end on that last drive, we were moving the ball down the field and pounding on the ground and moving it with short passes."
When Alex Darras hit Anthony Flemister with a 9-yard touchdown pass, the Irish (6-3) offense had taken over two minutes of game time off the clock, giving the defense a much needed breather to make a final stand.
Bolstered by the strong play of linebackers Tyler Enos and Kealey Green, Notre Dame bent but stood firm during Coalfield's ensuing five-minute drive. Forcing a fourth-down-and-33, consecutive sacks by Enos and Green ended the night for Coalfield (7-3).
"The coaches prepared us for their game plan," said Green of Coalfield, which is ranked sixth in Class A. "We've been working hard on our conditioning and our executing, and it all paid off at the end."
While the sustained drive earned a gold star for the night, Darras demonstrated that the Irish's quick-strike offense is still in good form. Darras, who finished with 215 passing yards and three touchdowns, hit Kareem Orr on scoring strikes of 55 and 47 yards.
"Coalfield wanted to shorten the football game, and they went ground and pound from the the start," Fant. "I believe they had 36 plays in the first half. We had the ball four times and less than 20 plays. That drive was part of our offense that has been missing, and it was great to see."
Coalfield opened the scoring when Ryan Hill hit Zach Wilkins on a 16-yard scoring pass with 2:16 left in the first. Orr responded with a juggling 55-yard catch and put he put the Irish up by a 14-6 count 47 seconds into the second half with his second long TD catch.
Hill, who finished with 74 yards on 17 carries, tied the game with a 1-yard run and a two-point conversion.
"Notre Dame is a very tough team," Coalfield coach Keith Henry said. "They can hit you with some big plays."
"We got the explosive plays when we needed them, but that drive was so big for us," Fant said. "We played some tough teams down the stretch, and we hope that these kinds of games will help us get to the playoffs."