EASTON – Judging by this game, the Notre Dame-Green Pond Crusaders need a lot of prayer. The Catholic high school’s team just couldn’t match the visiting Southern Lehigh Spartans’ effort here Friday night in a crushing 46-0 performance.
Down 6-0 from an early 15-yard touchdown run by senior fullback Luke Gotzon, the Crusaders hung in there as the Spartans’ special teams made one mental mistake after another. First, senior kicker Sam Terlingo missed a 30-yard field goal. Then, after the Spartan defense forced a punt, a roughing-the-kicker penalty gave Notre Dame new life. After forcing another punt, the defense quickly returned to the field when the ball bounced off an unsuspecting Spartan special teams player and into Notre Dame hands.
Nonetheless, the Spartan defense held strong, and didn’t allow the home team past the Spartan 40-yard line during the trying stretch.
When Southern Lehigh’s offense finally got to see the field again near the end of the first half, they wasted no time in turning things around. Starting at their own 15-yard line, senior halfback Matt Gotzon, senior fullback Luke Gotzon, and senior halfback Nick Kirsch repeatedly exploited holes in the Crusader defense. Kirsch broke two tackles on a hard-charging 25-yard touchdown run that capped off an impressive 85-yard drive. Junior quarterback Ty Edmond was unable to connect with senior halfback Keaton Eisenhauer on a difficult two-point conversion pass, leaving Southern Lehigh ahead 12-0.
However, Edmond got a chance to add more points to the board right away when Notre Dame’s junior running back Dysean Alexander fumbled away the ensuing kickoff. On first down, Edmond found Kirsch open at the Notre Dame 10-yard line. Then, like a young Brett Favre, Edmond shovel-passed in traffic to Matt Gotzon, who scampered in through the startled Crusader defenders for a 10-yard touchdown score. Unfortunately for the Spartans, scoring extra points and two-point conversions continued to prove impossible. Edmond’s pass was dropped in the end zone by senior wide receiver Jeff Smillie, leaving Southern Lehigh ahead 18-0 with 2:09 left in the first half.
Southern Lehigh finished the half aggressively, calling timeout after each of Notre Dame’s plays in an attempt to get the ball back and score before halftime. After junior quarterback Vince Villani completed a first down pass to junior wide receiver Noah Miller, it seemed as if the Crusaders would be able to keep the ball away from Southern Lehigh. But two plays later, Villani’s pass was deflected into the arms of senior defensive tackle Tyler Knittle for a Spartan interception at midfield with 56.8 seconds to go.
Southern Lehigh attacked on the ground, as Luke Gotzon picked up 30 yards on his electrifying run to the Notre Dame 19-yard line. With 29.3 seconds remaining, head coach John Toman used his last timeout as Southern Lehigh faced 4th-and-7 at the Notre Dame 16-yard line. Smillie leapt to catch a great throw by Edmonds to the end zone, which was just out of the reach of junior defensive back P.J. Santos. However, the referee ruled the pass incomplete, saying Smillie had landed out of bounds – despite protests that Santos had shoved Smillie out of bounds.
Southern Lehigh’s defense stayed focused, forcing a punt to end the half, and beginning the second half with a combined Knittle-and-Luke-Gotzon sack and forcing a punt. Runs by Matt and Luke Gotzon, plus Smillie’s hit-after-the-catch on Alexander, put Southern Lehigh at the Notre Dame 27-yard line. Toman dialed junior fullback Jake Meluskey’s number on a 24-yard run, followed by a 3-yard touchdown up the middle. The Spartans fumbled away a trick play on the two-point conversion, but a controversial roughing-the-holder penalty gave Southern Lehigh another chance at the Crusader 1-yard line. Edmond followed his offensive line up the middle to make the score 26-0.
Following another Crusader three-and-out, the Spartans couldn’t move the ball and had to punt. Eisenhauer intercepted a pass by Villani at the Notre Dame 35-yard line, but the Spartans’ drive stalled deep in Crusader territory after a dropped pass to Terlingo.
The Crusaders managed a first down on a run by junior running back Kyree Bowles, but were soon forced to punt. This proved costly for Notre Dame, as Southern Lehigh’s special teams blocked the kick, sending the ball high into the arms of senior cornerback D.J. Williams, who sprinted 25 yards for an easy touchdown. Notre Dame stopped Matt Gotzon’s run up the middle on the two point conversion attempt.
Notre Dame junior quarterback Blake Hoerres came into the game with the score 32-0, but was unable to move the ball as the Spartan defense continued to pound both quarterback and running back alike. Following a Notre Dame punt, Luke Gotzon and Meluskey moved the ball to the Spartan 44-yard line. Nick Kirsch took it from there, as he found a hole on second down and raced down the left sideline untouched for a 56-yard touchdown score. Williams split the uprights on the point-after-attempt, making the score 39-0.
After a sack by senior defensive end Zachary Newhard and a devastating tackle by senior linebacker Ray Durkin, Notre Dame had to punt again. Unhappily for the Crusaders, the punt let Southern Lehigh’s special teams unit put the final touch on its great second-half performance, as Smillie returned the kick 50 yards for another Southern Lehigh touchdown. With 2:08 remaining, Williams converted the point-after-attempt to make the final score 46-0.
The Spartans will next play Wilson High School at Southern Lehigh Middle School on Oct. 15 at 7 p.m.