If you are lucky enough to find a young, supremely talented quarterback who is able to flat-out win his job, you count your blessings daily. But if you happen to lose that young gun to injury, it might be considered catastrophic.
But not if you're Notre Dame football coach Charles Fant. When sophomore Alex Darras went down with a knee sprain in the Irish season opener, Fant had a man and a plan in hand. Both man and plan were on display Friday night as Notre Dame won its District 7-AA opener over Chattanooga Christian, 50-13.
The man was senior Clay Heltzel, who a year ago was a basketball player giving football one last try. Based on his performance Friday -- 8-of-18 passing for 150 yards and a touchdown, plus a 71-yard scoring run -- he made the right move.
"He was unbelievable," Fant said amid a postgame swarm of fans. "What's even more amazing is that he hadn't played quarterback since seventh grade and only came back out for football last year.
"We really try to prepare ourselves for any possibility, and we worked extensively with Clay to have him ready in just this situation," the coach explained. "But what I also did was look up my old head coach [Ringgold's] Robert Akins and sat down to learn their offense. What I was impressed with was how they got so many different people involved in the offense. That's what we needed."
So, 24 hours after meeting with Akins and the Tigers' offensive coordinator (Fant's old job), the Ringgold offense was now Notre Dame's. And everyone seemingly got involved as the Irish piled up 534 yards of offense on the Chargers.
Big plays were the order of the day for the Irish (2-1). Ricky Ballard closed out the team's first drive by going untouched the final 49 yards. After back-to-back sacks by Irish defenders Joe Dossett and Tyler Enos halted a CCS drive in its tracks, Auston Banks turned in a dazzling 35-yard run that included four broken or missed tackles.
Heltzel's turn came in the second quarter, when his 71-yard keeper around right end made it 21-0 less than two minutes into the period. A fumbled punt snap set up CCS for its first score, Jonathan Farlett taking a 23-yard jump ball away from an Irish defender, but Notre Dame answered before halftime.
Heltzel connected with versatile Kareem Orr on a 49-yard pass that also was mostly a jump ball. But with 2:49 left, he hit Orr perfectly in stride to beat double coverage for a 29-6 halftime lead.
The Irish scored twice within 10 seconds early in the third quarter to put the rout in progress. After Banks turned on the afterburners on a pitch play good for 75 yards, Orr picked off Chargers co-quarterback Zack Mercer and went 19 uncontested yards for the TD. With the clock now in motion, the final Irish touchdown again went to Ballard from 14 yards out as the period ended.
Notre Dame rushed for 384 yards, with Banks collecting 146 and Ballard totaling 71. Orr had a little of everything, catching five passes for 113 yards.
For the Chargers (2-2), Jared Miller and Mercer each threw a touchdown pass and an interception as they collectively passed for 208 yards. But CCS could only add 14 yards on the ground as the two teams combined for more than 750 yards.
Contact David Jenkins at email@example.com or 423-757-6293.
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