Going on the road in the playoffs is something that frightens most teams or coaches.
Hostile fans, unfamiliar stadium and a long bus ride are all obstacles teams must overcome.
But for Notre Dame, history suggests they might actually be better on the road, especially in the semifinals.
“I don’t think our boys really care where we play,” said Notre Dame coach Lewis Cook. “We were talking about it today, it’s kind of funny we’ve almost had more success away from home at this stage.
“Playing on the road you have a little less distraction, I guess.”
The Pios will have their hands full though, traveling to Hammond to take on No. 2 St. Thomas Aquinas.
Cook said the Falcons have a lot of top-notch talent for the Pios to worry about, including quarterback Cameron Dantzler, who committed to Mississippi State before the season started.
Cook said once the 6-foot-3, 170 pound Dantzler gets up to top speed he can be difficult to stop.
“He takes a little bit to unwind with how big he is, but once he gets going he’s really moving,” Cook said. “He’s elusive, he’ll weave in and out and try to make big plays so we have to try to keep him from fully unwinding and getting going.”
Cook said the Falcons run an unusual offensive system tailored to Dantzler’s talents.
St. Thomas Aquinas has typically been a Wing-T team in the past, but to better utilize Dantzler’s running ability rather than lining him up under center the Falcons put him in the shotgun and he acts as the de-facto running back.
“Typically in the Wing-T there aren’t many options for the quarterback to run the ball out of the formation,” Cook said. “So they moved him out from under center to give him more opportunities to run the ball.”
Dantzler isn’t the only Southeastern Conference caliber player on the Falcons’ roster, as future LSU defensive lineman Edwin Alexander resides in the middle of St. Thomas Aquinas’ defensive line.
Cook said the Falcons line Alexander up in different ways in the middle of their defense, but one thing remains the same: teams have trouble blocking the big fella.
Alexander is listed at 6-foot-3, 320 pounds and is the second-highest ranked player in Louisiana for the 2016 class, according to recruiting service 247sports.com.
Cook said the Pios would try and use some different schemes against Alexander when they decided to run inside, but would stay true to their principles in the running game and try to take advantage of one of the Falcons’ defensive tendencies.
“They run a lot of man on the outsides against the receivers and you don’t really see a lot of teams doing that anymore,” Cook said. “If they do what they’ve shown throughout the season we think we’ll be able to exploit the edges on their defense. If the (corners) are paying attention to the receivers, they don’t have as much support out there.
“But we’ll be who we’ve been throughout the season and by physical up front and try to win the line of scrimmage.”
Game: 7 p.m., Friday at Strawberry Stadium in Hammond
Seed: No. 2 St. Thomas Aquinas; No. 3 Notre Dame
Last game: Notre Dame beat Calvary; St. Thomas Aquinas beat Country Day
Last year: Notre Dame lost in the semifinals to University 35-15; St. Thomas Aquinas
Players to Watch: ND – Hayden Bourgeois, S; Jake Vautrot, DE; Paul Guidry, NT; STA – Cameron Dantzler, QB/CB (No. 4); Edwin Alexander, DT (No. 99)
Sept. 4 Beat LaGRANGE 24-6; 11 beat Breaux Bridge 20-0; 18 beat TEURLINGS 28-23; 25 beat OPELOUSAS CATHOLIC 40-7; Oct. 2 beat Loreauville 35-0; 9 beat Sacred Heart-VP 61-0; 15 beat WEST ST. MARY 61-0; 23 beat Delcambre 47-0; 30 Beat JEANERETTE 49-6; Nov. 5 beat CATHOLIC-NI 41-0. Playoffs: 13 beat HAYNES ACADEMY 42-0; 20 beat Calvary; 27 ST. THOMAS AQUINAS.
St. Thomas Aquinas
Sept. 4 beat Chalmette 40-27; 11 beat Mangham 36-18; 18 beat BRUSLY 35-31; 25 beat Hannan 50-5; Oct. 2 beat Springfield 42-14; 9 beat Carver 24-0; 16 beat POPE JOHN PAUL 41-0; 23 beat Northlake 56-20; 30 beat ST. HELENA 48-20; Nov. 5 beat PINE 49-0; PLAYOFFS; beat Menard 21-6; beat COUNTRY DAY 42-35; 27 Notre Dame