Like a plane traveling swiftly through the sky, Notre Dame Prep should have cruised its way to victory.
Quarterback Derek Elsholz took a deep breath ahead of the first snap of the game at Apollo High School. The stadium went quiet, and Elsholz’ crisp clap was heard throughout. He retreated into the pocket and threw over the middle into the hands of the opposing linebacker.
After the first possession of the game, it was clear the passing game had hit turbulence.
Notre Dame entered the game undefeated at 3-0, against a struggling Apollo team sitting at 1-2. Though Notre Dame prevailed in a 35-21 victory, the first half struggles remained the story for the Saints. “We had a lot of unnecessary errors in the first half,” said head coach George Prelock, who added, “it cost us a lot.”
Through the first three games of the season, Notre Dame has scored a combined 48 points in the first half, which is substantially less than their 90 points in the second half of games.
Prelock acknowledged the focus they have put on trying to piece together a good start but believes the slow start and strong finish the team has displayed this year is a testament to their patience and conditioning, rather than a weakness in their game.
Following the early interception, the game plan for Notre Dame appeared to change. Switching from a pass first offense to handing the ball off to tight end JD Roberts or running back Dominick Mastro on what seemed to be every possession.
“We saw some things from the defense and when you are able to run the ball, there’s no need to outsmart yourself,” said Prelock. The strategy to keep their offense simple paid off for the Saints. Coming out of halftime tied at 7, Notre Dame exploded for 28 points in the second half. With the majority of the rushing coming from the legs of Elsholz, Roberts and Mastro.
“We just focused on the task at hand and maintained our composure,” Prelock said of the ability to overcome the slow start.
Although Notre Dame erupted for four touchdowns in the second half, it was far from smooth sailing. “We had too many penalties and missed coverage on defense…that hurts late in a game,” Prelock said. The penalties Prelock alludes to are the 3 consecutive penalties the Saints took on Apollo’s last possession in the final minutes of the game. However, the resiliency of Notre Dame pulled through once again.
Apart from the slow start, penalties and miscues, Prelock never fails to recognize what he has been most proud to see from the team, “The kids are resilient…and that has shown through the first couple games.”
While Prelock sees the team’s slow start as a testament to their character, he understands next week against Desert Mountain High School they will have to play a clean game from kick off. Despite his appreciation for the Saints resiliency, he’d rather be on top early.
“Trust me, I’d rather not have the slow starts…it’s not good for my heart.”
Chase Drieberg is a sports journalism major at Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism covering Notre Dame Prep athletics.