GREEN BAY – Notre Dame Academy had its back against the wall Friday at Ted Fritsch Field.
A strong swat of the arm changed that rather quickly.
Senior Mitch Chosa chased down a play from behind and forced a fumble that was recovered by junior Ben Smet with less than 2 minutes to play to secure a 20-14 victory for Notre Dame over Green Bay Preble in a Fox River Classic Conference game.
The win was not only the Tritons’ 11th straight over the Hornets, but it officially clinches a WIAA playoff berth for Notre Dame (5-2) for a sixth straight year and 18th time in 19 seasons.
“We really just wanted to keep that streak alive and get to the playoffs,” said Chosa, who had a game-high 12 tackles and three tackles for loss. “That’s what it’s all about.”
Preble (6-1) had all the momentum late in the game as it scored 14 unanswered points in the fourth quarter.
“They stayed together as a team and played a very, very solid I would say fourth quarter,” Preble coach Dustin Gresen said. “But now what we have to do is take that fourth quarter and replicate that and play that in the rest of the game.”
The Hornets had just moved to the Notre Dame 43 with 1 minute, 45 seconds remaining prior to Chosa’s forced fumble.
After falling behind 20-0 in the opening minute of the fourth quarter, Preble responded with a pair of touchdown passes by senior Jack Dessart.
The first went for 53 yards to senior Anthony Veriha, while the second was 9-yard strike to Nick Renier on a fourth-and-goal play with 3:25 remaining.
Coupled between the scoring plays was an interception made by sophomore Connor Shefchik and a tackle deep inside Notre Dame territory on a failed punt attempt.
The Hornets had an opportunity to score the go-ahead touchdown thanks to a pass break up on third down by senior EJ Reese, who recorded a team-high 12 tackles and saw extended duty at running following an early injury to senior Kody Joski.
“That’s definitely a tough loss,” Gresen said. “He’s our main running back, starter. Hopefully, it’s nothing too serious for his sake and can bounce back. Right now, I know this team has the mentality of the next guy up.”
Dessart completed 13 of 22 passes for 155 yards with the two touchdowns and an interception in nearly rallying Preble to a dramatic win.
Notre Dame lead 7-0 at halftime. It marched 81 yards on its first possession, which was capped by a 2-yard touchdown run by Brandon Limoni, who rushed for 125 yards on 25 carries.
The Tritons opened the second half with senior Wes Glime finding junior Max Healy for an 18-yard touchdown.
Glime completed 13 of 21 passes for 164 yards in addition to rushing for 47 yards. Senior Tommy Martzahl caught four passes for 59 yards to lead the Notre Dame receiving corps.
The Tritons would extend its lead to 20-0 when James Arett drove into the end zone for a 5-yard touchdown run in the opening minute of the fourth quarter.
“We had a lot of blocking assignment challenges with a lot of guys in different spots that will be learning opportunities,” Notre Dame coach Mike Rader said. “What’s great is we can learn, but we still won the game.”
Preble, which has qualified for the playoffs for an eighth straight year, still has an opportunity to win a share of the FRCC title if it wins out. The Hornets have tough road contests against Pulaski and unbeaten Bay Port remaining.
Notre Dame, meanwhile, closes out the regular season at Green Bay Southwest and by hosting De Pere. It will be aiming for another deep playoff run after advancing to at least the WIAA Division 3 state semifinals the previous three years.
“We haven’t really achieved what we’re capable of yet,” Rader said, “Which is good at this point because we’ve got games in the future that we can, hopefully, strive to do that.”
This article originally appeared on Preps Agenda.