Notre Dame Batavia’s perfect season ends in Far West Regional

By CARSON WERNER

BROCKPORT, N.Y. — At 10-0, the Notre Dame Batavia Fighting Irish football team entered its first Far West Regional match in seven years after effortlessly topping Section V. Standing in its way, however, was defending state champions, the Clymer/Sherman/Panama Wolfpack.

Down 20-8, Notre Dame’s season rested on the energy it brought out to combat CSP in the second half. The opening kick return, however, did not help swing the momentum in the Fighting Irish’s way.

The kick was muffed and the ball rolled into the end zone before Sanders Jr. recovered for the touchback. Two passing plays and a run later, Notre Dame was forced into another three-and-out and a 10-yard punt gave the Wolfpack great field position once again, a persistent trend in the game.

“When it snows, we can’t get on the field,” assistant coach Mikey Rapone responded about the special teams’ struggles. “When you’re stuck in a gym, special teams kind of falls by the wayside sometimes because you don’t have the room to do it.”

CSP’s offense marched down the field on its first drive of the second half and ended up at the one-yard-line using a 19-yard run from Brendan Ramsey. The quarterback, Gerrit Hinsdale, ran it in to increase the score to 26-8 just three minutes into the third period.

The 14-point deficit was the largest Notre Dame had faced all season.

The Section VI winners’ only loss came on its third game of the year to Franklinville/Ellicottville/West Valley by a score of 24-8. The Wolfpack conceded just 24 points and scored 157 in the four remaining games of the regular season. In the postseason thus far, CSP shutout Franklinville and beat Randolph by 30 points.

“They’re an impressive team,” Rapone added. “They’re one of the best high school teams I’ve ever seen. They play old school football with a new style. You know, if you got speed and you’re mean and you’re ready to hit, sometimes it takes you by storm and it did tonight.”

Up against one of Section V’s most all-around dominant teams, it’d be outlandish to think the Wolfpack could produce the same numbers, especially to a team that has yet to be beaten. However, following the first half of Friday’s game at The College at Brockport, the Fighting Irish’s state tournament hopes began to fade.

In the first half, after giving up its second touchdown of the game, Notre Dame’s answering drive to the 13-0 disadvantage put the team right back in it. From their own 15, Colin McCulley connected with Mark Sanders Jr. on a 55-yard pass down the sideline to spark the Fighting Irish. Gabe Macdonald finished off the drive with a 10-yard touchdown run and a reception for the two-point conversion, trimming the lead to five.

The following kickoff featured a dazzling return into Notre Dame’s end from Zavon Overton, who returned a punt for a touchdown earlier in the game. Given three minutes to work with, the CSP offense retaliated with a touchdown pass from Gerrit Hinsdale before halftime.

“I thought our special teams units were outstanding, our coverage teams, our return teams,” CSP head coach Ty Harper said. “Zavon [Overton] was a huge spark for us early in the game. We didn’t really have a great first offensive series and so he returns a punt for a touchdown.”

The Wolfpack’s domination continued throughout the game, winning by a score of 47-14. John Swabik was a major force in the second half, accounting for an interception, a forced fumble and a 21-yard touchdown run.

“They’re very big and strong up front,” Harper mentioned. “We thought maybe running between the tackles would be problematic for us, so we tried to get our speed to the edges. But, they did a really good job stopping that so we tried some misdirection. We ran some inside traps that seemed to work and loosen them up. We took the underneath stuff when they started sending blitzers and our kids did a great job of executing.”

At the front of the helm and largely responsible for the team’s success is head coach Joe Zambito. Unfortunately for the Fighting Irish, their head coach was suspended from the Far West Regional due to an ejection in the sectional finals against Alexander.

“Huge,” Rapone mentioned about Zambito’s absence. “We always talk about family and he’s the head of the family. He’s the Godfather. So not having him here was big. I can’t… I can’t put into words how big it was. He’s the engine, the captain and unfortunately we were dealt that hand and we tried to play through it. The one thing that Joe does is he sets us up for success with his scouting reports and all the research he does.”

The Fighting Irish ends their season at 10-1 and a Section V Class D title under its belt.

“Look what you accomplished,” Rapone said in regards to his team. “They’re bringing the prestige back to a program that had it for a long time. Then you kind of had a couple bad years, but they brought the seventh sectional title to the school this year and that’s what they have to look at. When they come back to school, their year will be up on the board and nobody can ever take that away from them.”

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