A second consecutive trip to the state championship game had been decided for nearly a quarter when Scottsdale Notre Dame senior Taylor Malenfant walked over to offensive line coach Jake Taylor, kneeled down to the ground and kissed the top of his shoe.
Taylor’s cleats were something of an inspiration before Friday night’s 42-0 thrashing of Phoenix Greenway in the 4A Division II state semifinals at Phoenix North Canyon.
The last time Taylor wore these particular shoes was last year’s state semifinal against Gilbert Higley that took place one year ago Sunday, a memorable 15-14 victory for Notre Dame in monsoon-ish weather, largely thanks to a Statue of Liberty play on fourth down and an Andy Wilder interception.
The Saints rolled against Cottonwood Mingus a week later to win the state title.
Taylor hadn’t worn these cleats since last year’s semifinals — the mud and scuff marks are still ingrained in them — but he pulled them out Friday and made sure the players knew it.
“I think it fired them up,” Taylor said.
Something did, because Notre Dame (13-0) will face Tucson Santa Rita in next week’s state championship after the Saints were both the irresistible force and immovable object against the Demons (10-3).
Notre Dame turned three Greenway turnovers into 21 points, dominated time of possession threefold, punished Greenway quarterback Greg Walton and posted its third shutout of the season.
It was the Saints’ 22nd consecutive win dating back to October 2007.
“The 20-something seniors want to go out the same way guys like (Sean) Renfree and (Brandon) Hirneise did,” Malenfant said. “We want that perfect season. So far, so good.”
Malenfant was in the middle of it all. He caught two touchdown passes from quarterback Shane Wolfe and had his third interception of the season against Greenway (he also picked off two passes against the Demons in a 40-17 win earlier this month).
Andrew Stutz and Patrick Foley each scored twice, and the defense got in on the act when Shane Lannan recovered a fumble and bulldozed 12 yards into the end zone to make it 35-0 early in the third quarter.
The Saints got a bit of a wake-up call in the first round against Tucson Sahuarita when they trailed 13-7 at halftime, but they’ve been dominant since.
“It smacked us in the face,” Malenfant said.
“It’s not been easy,” Notre Dame coach Scot Bemis said. “We had to make a lot of things happen.”
Must have been the shoes.
“It’ll be the longest week of the year for all of us,” Bemis said. “I don’t they’ll mind.”