This comeback victory was built with a foundation of hope.
Sure, the bricks may have been a heady touchdown pass by Notre Dame quarterback Jordan Gehrke with 2:50 left in the game, or 251 yards rushing by Nick Cole.
But the mortar was coach Scot Bemis, who announced an indefinite leave of absence in a teary post-game talk with his team last week after a growth was found inside his elbow he originally hurt on a summer vacation.
In the end, the Saints credited Bemis for fueling their 28-24 comeback win over Desert Mountain, which saw Notre Dame (2-3) rally for 14 unanswered points in the second half.
“Coach Bemis is the heart and soul of our team, and in the end, we really dug down deep,” Gehrke said. “Our defense made some spectacular plays and our running backs Nick Cole and Luke Taffuri ran their hearts out.”
Bemis, who will undergo surgery to remove that growth in his right elbow, even made a halftime call to coaches. During that call, Bemis advised the coaches to abandon their first-half plan, which allowed Desert Mountain’s Kyle Allen to account for 101 yards of offense, and two scores.
“He told me, Gary, don’t worry about the coverage; you just go and get him in the second half,” interim coach Gary Gregory said.
After Desert Mountain (2-3) took a 24-14 lead on a 5-yard ramble by Daaiim Brown at the 9:24 mark of the third quarter, the Saints started to manufacture their comeback.
The Saints struck first on a 5-yard pass from Gehrke to Grant Martinez with 6:33 left in the fourth quarter. Three plays later, Notre Dame’s Bailey Jones recovered a fumble, which led to Gehrke constructing a 32-yard drive highlighted by a scrambling touchdown throw to Andrew Thomas with 2:50 left in the game.
What’s more, is that the touchdown pass came after a hand injury.
“I think it was great,” Gregory said. “Jordan had a tough night (Friday), I think anybody that was here saw that. But to dislocate a finger, or whatever he’d done to himself, and to come back into the game was very, very professional of him.”
Under pressure from Notre Dame linebackers, Maurice White intercepted an Allen pass on the next drive.
“We just kind of shut down, two three-and-outs, then we fumble the ball, and we throw the pick," Desert Mountain coach Tony Tabor said. "I don’t care if you’re 8-year-old Pop Warner team or you’re playing on Sunday, you’ve gotta close out games."
Allen was held to 87 yards on 5-of-11 passing in the second half, as the Desert Mountain offense only accumulated 124 yards of offense.
To put the finishing touches on the comeback, Cole and Taffuri iced the game with two first downs.
When Cole reflected on his last one-on-one conversation with Bemis, he remembered the hope that Bemis delivered after a potentially devastating loss to Hamilton two weeks ago.
“He said he believes in me," Cole said. "He trusts me. He said he knows I’ll do good.”