Coming off two disappointing seasons and starting the 2011 season 0-2, it would be easy to dismiss a game against Oakfield-Alabama as a bye week, but as any coach in the Genesee Region will tell you, there's no squad in the league that can be taken lightly.
There's no telling if the Fighting Irish took the Hornets a little less than serious coming into Friday night's league match-up, but O-A's young players certainly made a game of it.
The final score was 29-14, but the Hornets were never really out of it until the final minutes, and at the half looked like a team that could spoil Notre Dame's early season perfect record.
"They're very well coached," said Notre Dame's head Coach Rick Mancuso. "Brian (Palone) is doing a great job. That (Tommy) Manzella kid is a terrific quarterback. They're tough, there's no doubt about it. They spread you out all over, they throw the ball. I give them all the credit in the world. I thought they played very well tonight."
Palone said his team is young. They let the game get away from them when Nate Woods returned a punt 50 yards for a TD, making the score 15-14 following a two-point conversion.
"That changed the momentum," Palone said.
While Manzella showed he could still march his offense down the field -- he passed for 192 yards on the night on 27 completions -- the Hornets couldn't finish the deal in the red zone.
"Overall I fell like we were right in there," Palone said. "Our kids were fighting hard just like we ask them -- 'give 110 percent.' We’ve got a lot of sophomores out there. We’re just very young this year, so we’re going to make mistakes, but we’re just going to learn from our mistakes and improve."
The scoring started in the first quarter when Nick Taylor capped a Notre Dame drive with a 16-yard run.
But O-A's no-huddle offensive helped the Hornets get the momentum back and the defense was being pretty stingy, twice intercepting Tim McCulley.
Two O-A drives in the second quarter ended in TDs -- a three-yard run by Manzella and a two-yard pass by Manzella to Chris Nanni.
By the fourth quarter, Notre Dame's running game was nearly unstoppable.
Taylor finished the game with 87 yards on the ground on 17 carries. Nick Conklin had 82 yards rushing on 11 carries.
ND's two fourth-quarter TDs were a five-yard run by Taylor and Woods hauling in a 25-yard pass from McCulley.
McCulley finished with 107 in the air on 16 completions.
Mancuso said his young team played two great quarters to start each of their previous games and then "sort of frittered it away" in second halfs, but Friday the team played better in the second half than the first.
"With a young group of kids like we've got, that's what you expect," Mancuso said. "I want to get us to the point where we're playing four full quarters of football."
As for O-A, which was shut out three times in 2010 on its way to a 0-7 season, following a 2-5 campaign in 2009, Coach Palone is disappointed in his team's 0-3 start, but he said he's seeing progress for the Hornets.
"I feel like this program is heading in the right direction," Palone said. "Every day and each and every game you can see that we’re improving. We’re hanging right in there with these teams now, where last year and the year before we weren’t right in there with the games. They were breaking the games wide open. This year, we're right there."