HAMMOND – It looked like there was nothing between St. Thomas Aquinas receiver Hunter Stanley and the end zone as he raced down the middle of the field with his team trailing 6-0 midway through the second quarter.
After catching a dump pass from quarterback Cameron Dantzler at his team’s 15-yard line, Stanley had only green in front as he looked to even the score in Friday’s semifinal clash with No. 3-seeded Notre Dame.
But the Pioneers’ Hayden Bourgeois had other plans.
The senior defensive back chased Stanley down and tackled him from behind at the Notre Dame 6, preventing a game-tying touchdown. The Falcons failed to score on four tries, and they never got closer in this one-sided affair.
Bourgeois recorded his second consecutive three-touchdown outing, the Pioneers’ defense suffocated the Falcons all night and Notre Dame advanced to the Division III select state championship game with a 33-0 shutout of No. 2 St. Thomas Aquinas on Friday in Strawberry Stadium.
The Pioneers will go for the school’s fifth state title against No. 1 seed Riverside Academy, which defeated St. Charles Catholic in the other semifinal game, 35-14.
One week after knocking two-time defending state champion Calvary Baptist out of the playoffs, the Pioneers handed St. Thomas Aquinas its first loss of the season to advance to their first state title game since 2012.
“I was a little concerned because last week was almost a perfect game for us against Calvary Baptist, which we knew we had to have,” said Notre Dame coach Lewis Cook. “It’s hard to follow that up. But we had a good week of practice, and I knew their hearts were going to be in it no matter what.”
The Pioneers (13-0) garnered 396 yards of offense, with 303 of that total coming on the ground. Gabe Petry led the balanced Notre Dame rushing attack with 97 yards on nine carries, and senior Lance Bertrand added 73 yards and a touchdown on 11 attempts.
Bourgeois scored the Pioneers’ first three touchdowns on runs of five, two and three yards, respectively, after erupting for three rushing scores against Calvary Baptist last week. On each of his touchdowns Friday, Bourgeois lined up in the backfield behind two fullbacks — all he had to do was find his way in.
“That’s our bread and butter package,” Bourgeois said.
Despite the big night on offense, Cook was more pleased with Bourgeois’ hustle to track down Stanley on what seemed to be a game-tying touchdown in the second quarter.
“When Hayden Bourgeois ran that kid down instead of letting him just go score, that exemplified the heart of this football team,” Cook said.
With the offense controlling the pace of the game, Notre Dame’s defense controlled the Falcons. St. Thomas Aquinas (12-1) tallied only 200 yards of offense as the Pios held the Falcons to a woeful 20 yards on the ground.
Notre Dame harassed Dantzler, a Mississippi State commit for the class of 2016, all night. The senior completed just five of his 16 attempts for three interceptions and 140 yards, 87 of which came on one play. He rushed 13 times for 36 yards (2.8 yards per carry).
“[Notre Dame’s] defense is good,” said Falcons’ coach John White. “It’s the best defense we’ve seen, and we knew coming in that’s how they good they. They illustrated that tonight.”
All that now stands between the Pios and their first state title since 2009 is a date with top-seeded Riverside on Dec. 4 in the Superdome. The Rebels (11-1) have won 11 straight after opening the season with a 29-28 loss to John Ehret on Sept. 4.
Cook said his team will be looking forward to the challenge.
“I saw [Riverside] earlier in the year, and they have a lot of good athletes,” Cook said. “It should be a heck of a football game. We’ll have our work cut out for us next week for sure.”