PARSONS - Santino Cava rushed for 320 yards and four touchdowns as Class A, No. 12 Notre Dame defeated Class A, No. 13 Tucker County, 46-34, on Friday night.
However, a controversial call late in the fourth quarter stalled a drive by the Mountain Lions and may have erased the team's comeback rally.
"We can peg it all on the officials," Tucker County coach A.J. Rapp said. "We gave up a lot of big plays. Right before the half, they got off on a 97-yard touchdown. It's just very uncharacteristic of our guys to give up big plays like that."
Down by 12 points with about 6 minutes left in the game, Tucker County drove the ball to Notre Dame's 18-yard line. On the play in question, quarterback Austin Zirk dropped back to pass but was grabbed by a defender and a referee blew the play dead.
However, Zirk released the ball and it was intercepted. The referee ruled the ball was in the air when the whistle blew and granted the interception to Notre Dame.
"Our guys played hard tonight," Notre Dame head coach Sam Alvaro said. "The offensive line really stepped up to the challenge.
"They knew our backs were against the wall coming in and they showed just how much they want to win."
Notre Dame scored first when quarterback T.J. McKinsey hit Jarrod West for a 16-yard touchdown with 9:21 left in the first quarter. Adam McMunn's kick made the score 7-0.
The Mountain Lions answered back when Zirk scored on a 10-yard run. Michael Callaway's kick tied the score 7-7.
In the second quarter, Cava busted a 53-yard run to set up a 35-yard strike from McKinsey to Spencer Harlow. McMunn's PAT made the score 14-7.
Not to be outdone, Zirk eluded the Irish defenders for a 47-yard touchdown run. Calloway's conversion made the score 14-14.
The Irish moved the ball back down the field on the next series, and Cava capped the drive with a 6-yard touchdown run. Notre Dame missed the PAT attempt, making the score 20-14.
Tucker County once again knocked on the door, but Cava intercepted an errant pass from Zirk at the goal line.
Notre Dame seized the opportunity for another score when McKinsey hit West for a 93-yard pass with 26 seconds left in the half. The two-point conversion was unsuccessful, making the score 26-14 at intermission.
The Irish opened the second half with more Cava, this time scoring from six yards out. McMunn's kick made the score 33-14.
The Mountain Lions retaliated with a 39-yard run from Zirk, cutting the deficit to 33-21.
Notre Dame continued to pound the ball on the ground. Cava scored on a 44-yard run to make the score 40-21.
Tucker County opened the fourth quarter with a touchdown pass from Zirk to Zack Armstrong. Calloway's PAT made the score 40-28.
After holding the Irish on defense, Zirk again went to the air. This time, he hit Armstrong with a 40-yard strike. However, the snap was botched on the extra point attempt, keeping the score 40-34.
Notre Dame continued to grind the clock with running plays.
Cava capped the drive with a 6-yard touchdown run to stretch the lead back to 46-34.
The Mountain Lions were not finished yet. Zirk led the offense to Notre Dame's 18-yard line and was poised to score.
However, the inadvertent whistle by the referee landed an interception for Notre Dame. The Irish then controlled the clock until time elapsed.
Both teams will learn their postseason fates when the final SSAC ratings are released today.
The state playoffs will begin next Friday around the state.