In a game featuring lots of big plays and big momentum swings, a 1-yard quarterback sneak by senior Sam Hall with four seconds remaining capped a huge comeback as Chattanooga Christian School defeated Notre Dame 43-39 in a Division II-AA East Region shootout Friday night.
"We had worked on that play all week and have had that running all year," Hall said. "We thought it would be there in a short situation. At first I was a little nervous, but I thought it was the right call."
The Chargers (3-2, 2-1) trailed 39-28 with 3:04 remaining after the Fighting Irish made a 20-yard field goal, but the hosts began their rally with a 68-yard touchdown run by Tink Scott, and then Hall and Scott hooked up on a pass for the 2-point conversion to cut the deficit to 39-36 with 1:27 left.
A perfectly executed onside kick gave the ball back to CCS, and the Chargers quickly drove to the 1.
After Notre Dame stuffed running back JaMichael Baxter on first and second down, CCS coach Mark Mariakis called his final timeout with eight seconds remaining.
"We said 'Look, we're going to go and win this ballgame,'" Mariakis recalled. "They had gotten us to the point where we're on the one-inch line, and our offense has carried us all year while we're trying to grow up defensively. I just saw it in their eyes, and there was just no way we were going to go for a tie."
Big plays dominated the first half for both teams. Notre Dame opened the scoring in the first minute of play on a 25-yard pass from Bennett Brinson to Charlie Menham, but the Chargers responded with a 1-yard touchdown run by Scott to pull within 8-7.
CCS then took advantage of two Irish fumbles and some big plays of their own by Baxter. He scored on a 33-yard run in the late in the first quarter, then pushed the Chargers' lead to 21-8 after a 74-yard scoring dash with 9:43 left in the second quarter.
The rest of the first half belonged to the Irish offense and the passing of Brinson, who connected with George Fillauer for a 70-yard touchdown with seven minutes remaining. CCS put together a 13-play drive that bogged down at the Notre Dame 20, where the Chargers turned the ball over on downs with 1:49 remaining.
After an incompletion on first down, Brinson hit Menham for an 80-yard touchdown pass to give the Irish a 22-21 lead at halftime.
CCS regained the lead in the third quarter on a 21-yard run by Scott, but Notre Dame surged back on a 1-yard run by Brinson, then extended the lead with an 11-play drive capped by a 36-yard touchdown run by Fillauer.
Despite coming up short, Notre Dame (2-6, 0-5) showed fight that pleased coach Charles Fant.
"They overcame fumbles and fourth downs," he said. "So much adversity was thrown at them, and it took an amazing effort for us to lose this game. And I tip my hat to CCS, but I'm so proud of my kids."
Mariakis said getting a big home win against a tough opponent was a big step as the Chargers continue to improve in what has been a challenging season for every program.
"We knew they were a good team," Mariakis said of Notre Dame. "Coach Fant does a good job coaching those guys up. They were prepared like our guys were, and we didn't do some things we should have done tonight. But this was a huge win for us. It's a big region win, and it's the first time we've won at home.
"Our leadership showed tonight, and our culture showed. They never quit, and they could have easily quit."
Contact Jim Tanner at email@example.com.