Notre Dame had no trouble running the ball against Geneseo in their Class D Section V championship match up, but when Geneseo needed a big play, a play action run or option, it seemed to get the job done more often then not.
The tone was set in the first four minutes of the first quarter. Andrew Mullen capped a Notre Dame drive with a 7-yard run to give the Fighting Irish a 7-0 lead. Before another 30 seconds had ticked off the clock, Geneseo's Jon Ridler, on the Blue Devil's first play from scrimmage, bolted 79 yards, and with a two-point conversion, Geneseo was up 8-7.
"Good teams make big plays and they made the big plays when they needed them," Coach Rick Mancuso said.
By the half, Notre Dame was down by three, 24-21 and the two teams combined had rushed for more than 400 yards.
Sophomore Andrew Mullen scored all three of ND's first-half TDs, one on a 59-yard run.
The Irish took a leg up in the seesaw scoring battle when Doane McCulley took the opening half kick off 82 yards to put ND up 28-24.
True to form for the game, Geneseo countered with another big play. Xavier Copeland scored on a 55-yard run, but the Irish answered with another grind-it-out drive capped by a five-yard run by Nick Taylor.
Score, 35-32, Note Dame with 4:53 left in the third quarter.
Then the game took a decisive turn in Geneseo's favor.
After stopping the Blue Devils on their possession following Taylor's score, Notre Dame was moving the ball down the field again when QB Tim McCulley took off on a keeper. After gaining about 10 yards, he was gang tackled by Blue Devils defenders.
As the photo above shows, McCulley was in possession of the ball as his knees were down, but there was no whistle. This gave Geneseo's Ridler a chance to strip the ball from McCulley.
The Blue Devils recovered the "fumble."
"I thought his forward progress would stop," Mancuso said after the game. "I was waiting for the whistle. He was being driven back on his way down. I thought we’d get the whistle and we didn’t and they got the ball and that deflated us.
"We went from being very, very high and being very energized to being somewhat deflated and I think that kind of took a little wind out of our sails."
Geneseo scored 12 unanswered points and led 44-35 with 9:47 left in the game.
A fourth Mullen TD, on a seven-yard run, pulled the Irish within two points, but with two minutes left in the game, Copeland ripped off another 56 yard TD run, and with the two-point conversion, the Blue Devils cemented a 10-point win, 52-42.
In all, Notre Dame gained 394 yards on the ground and Geneseo ran for 409 yards and gained another 145 through the air, giving the teams a combined offensive total of 948 yards.
For Notre Dame, Mullen scored four TDs on 15 carries and gained 160 yards. Nick Taylor scored one TD and gained 221 yards on the ground.
Tim McCulley attempted 10 passes, completed four for 48 yards. He was intercepted once.
Xavier Copeland carried the ball 17 times for Geneseo, gaining 234 yards and scoring four touchdowns. He also passed for 145 yards on four completions. Jon Ridler carried the ball 18 times and gained 154 yards, scoring twice. Wes Smith had three catches for 118 yards and one TD.
On defense, Kyle Morse, Nate Woods and Andrew Mullen each had seven tackles. Jacob Tschiderer had 11 tackles for Geneseo.
Anthony Paladino was Notre Dame's defensive player of the game. Aaron McDonald received a lineman award.
Time of possession tipped in Notre Dame's favor, 29:25 to 18:35.
"I've been very, very proud of the effort of all the kids throughout the season and today was no different," Mancuso said. "I really felt they left everything out on the field. I don’t think we got cheated at all in what we brought to the game and I think they’ve got a lot to be proud of."
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