Notre Dame sits atop District 7-AA with two wins, and the Fighting Irish shaking down the thunder — to borrow a phrase from South Bend, Ind. — has left more than one opponent shaking his head in disbelief.
The Irish, who play at Lookout Valley tonight, have rung up lopsided wins over Grace Academy (52-13), Chattanooga Christian (45-7) and most recently defending 7-AA champ Bledsoe County (31-7). The fourth win in their 4-1 start is a forfeit over now-closed Taft Youth Center.
"It's a good measuring stick for us — to see who we are and how far we have come," said Lookout Valley coach Tony Webb, whose team's only loss is to top-ranked Class 1A power South Pittsburg.
"They were improved. Their quarterback is good, and so is No. 55 (sophomore lineman Joe Dossett)," Bledsoe coach Jason Reel said of the Irish. "Their game plan against us worked well."
There is surprise from outside the program because the Irish had no experienced quarterback and entered the season with just 15 upperclassmen sprinkled in coach Charles Fant's two-deep chart.
"I'm not surprised at the four wins so much as how we won," said Fant, a first-year head coach and successor to Josh Sellers. "I figured if we were 4-1 we would have been eking out wins, but we've had large margins and I didn't expect that."
Surprise within his team comes from the opposite end of the spectrum.
"I'm surprised that we're not [5-0]," said sophomore jack-of-all-trades Kareem Orr. "I think we can go deep into the playoffs."
Added freshman quarterback Alex Darras: "I am surprised that we didn't beat McMinn [Central], but then we didn't do what we had been coached to do."
McMinn Central beat Notre Dame 41-20, scoring four touchdowns in a 4 1/2-minute span.
"Part of that's on the kids and part of that's on me," Fant said. "It's a young team and we let things snowball on us. In 13 years of coaching I have never seen something snowball so quickly. I should have called a timeout to calm things down and slow the momentum. That's a lesson learned as a young head coach."
Still, there is excitement, partially generated by youthful exuberance, and the coach believes the enthusiasm has been a major building block.
"The guys are so excited to be out there. They don't know what it was like to be 1-9 or 3-7," Fant said. "The sophomores got a taste of success by being 5-5 [in the regular season] last year, and most of these freshmen are coming from OLPH and other programs that have historically been successful. They're used to winning."
Such backgrounds -- like that of Orr, who had never played on a losing team -- are solid building blocks to winning.
"I feel like we have a great team and feel we can go far. I think we could be that good," said Orr, an explosive athlete whom Fant plays at wide receiver and in the offensive and defensive backfields. "The big thing is being focused and going hard in practice."
Few have had to focus more than the 14-year-old Darras, who won the starting quarterback job despite spending his middle school career as an offensive guard and defensive end or tackle.
"We didn't have that many big guys so I played in the line, but my coaches told Coach Fant they thought I could be a good quarterback," Darras said.
He has had to learn on the job as have numerous other freshmen, including Ricky Ballard, who ran for more than 200 yards against CCS after sophomore Auston Banks went down with a high-ankle sprain.
"Alex is way beyond his actual experience," Fant said. "You would never think he's just 14. He still has some things to learn on his passes, but he has only two interceptions and five TDs so he's doing well."
As so are the Irish, who hope to improve on last year's one-and-done playoff showing.
"I want us thinking that we have a chance to win every time we go out regardless of who we're playing," Fant said. "I felt like [in the preseason] that with everybody healthy we had a chance to win all of our football games, but we still have great teams in front of us to play."
Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...