The type of big play Lookout Valley desired developed on the second snap of the game Friday night.
But it never happened again.
Notre Dame adjusted its defense and rode the shoulders of its offensive line and the legs of freshman Ricky Ballard to a 23-13 win over the Yellow Jackets.
Ballard, who began the season third on the Irish depth chart, scored three touchdowns and rushed for 201 yards on 25 carries.
"Ricky is a hard runner and he has that vision that's hard to teach," Notre Dame coach Charles Fant said. "We found out against Bledsoe County that we could run the ball inside. Tonight was the toughest he's run it."
His ability to heal will be tested. Ballard injured his right shoulder on the Irish's final drive of the game. Fant said he's questionable for the game next Friday against Signal Mountain.
"He didn't feel anything — it just hurt," Fant said. "There was no crunching. We'll get it Xrayed and then see where he's at."
Speed and talent for both teams appeared early. Lookout Valley tailback Jamal Jones caught a simple swing pass and turned it into a 64-yard touchdown on that second play of the game.
"I thought we had to get big plays," said Lookout Valley coach Tony Webb, whose workhorse carried 20 times for 92 yards and a touchdown in addition to his stellar catch-and-run.
Notre Dame responded with a nine-play drive that Ballard capped with a powerful run through the left side of his line.
Then the game slowed — like a speeding Corvette driver noticing a highway patrol officer in a construction zone — in the second quarter with penalties and injuries.
Notre Dame gained only 126 yards after its opening drive, and the Yellow Jackets amassed only 102 for the rest of the first half.
Ballard opened the second half by capping a 28-yard drive with a punishing run over the left side and into the end zone from 13 yards out. He continued a stellar second half by rushing six times on a seven-play drive, including the final 2 yards on a dive up the middle to give Notre Dame a 20-7 lead.
Jones pulled the Yellow Jackets (4-2) to within 20-13 on a 27-yard run. But Irish quarterback and kicker Alex Darras sealed Notre Dame's fourth win with a 26-yard field goal.
"We were in it the whole time," Webb said. "We played right with a good team, and I'm more sure about us being good than I was three hours ago."
David Uchiyama is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who began his tenure here in May 2001. His primary beats are UTC athletics — specifically men’s basketball and athletic department administration — and golf, which includes coverage from the PGA Tour to youth events. He also covers other high school sports, outdoor adventures, and contributes to other sections of the newspaper when necessary. David grew up in Salinas, Calif., and began working ...