As the lights shone down on the field at Desert Mountain High School, Notre Dame Prep sat in the visitors’ locker room listening to the words of head coach George Prelock.
“We have to play for one another and take care of business on the field,” Prelock said. He added, “We want to come out hot.”
The Saints did just that.
Led by quarterback Derek Elsholz and running back Dominick Mastro, Notre Dame Prep scored 21 first-half points on its way to a 35-14 victory over the Wolves.
Notre Dame Prep has struggled this season with scoring in the first half of games. The Saints have averaged almost 14 points in the first-half, compared to their 29.5 average in the second-half.
“We have struggled with playing consistent this season,” Prelock said. He added, “We know we have to turn it around soon.”
Four minutes into the first quarter on Friday night, the Saints looked to have come ready to play the consistent game they have been searching for all season.
Elsholz made four consecutive complete passes to make his way down field and find wide receiver Damien Owens in the end zone.
“Derek did a great job with recognizing his opportunities to be patient or to run the ball when he did,” said Prelock.
The opening minutes of the game displayed a new dimension of the Saints team. Traditionally, they were accustomed to slow starts, followed by strong finishes. Similarly, Notre Dame’s offense has been fueled by the legs of Mastro, who made up for not getting any touches on the first drive, later in the half.
Mastro ran for 80 yards in the first-half, including a 50-yard run down the field, which he would later run in for a touchdown. It was only fitting the most used weapon on the Saints offense, closed out their most dominant half of football of the season.
After complete domination in the first-half, the Saints appeared to hit a wall in the second-half.
Despite exiting the third quarter with a 28-0 lead, the Saints offense had languished.
“I feel we got complacent and that can’t happen if we want to play high calibre football,” Prelock said.
This allowed Desert Mountain to score their first touchdown of the game on an eight play drive down the field with 9:16 remaining in the fourth quarter. They would follow that up with another touchdown with just over five minutes remaining.
However, Notre Dame would respond.
With a little over two minutes remaining in the final quarter, Elsholz received the snap and looked 25 yards down field and hit Owens with a rifle of a pass. The second connection of the game between the duo, and the dagger to beat the Wolves and push them to 1-4 on the season.
“I was really proud of the way they responded and how they put that last drive together,” Prelock said.
Prelock acknowledged the number of times the team has pushed through adversity and put their resiliency on full display this season.
“We have been blessed with a lot of big-time situations, our kids know what it takes in big spots to make big plays,” said Prelock. He continued, “they believe in one another and that’s the important thing.”
Although the Saints improve to 5-0, Prelock is well aware of the inconsistency the team has shown and the improvements that are needed.
“It would be nice to play a complete game, it’s something we haven’t done yet, and we are going to continue to work at practice to get to that goal.”
Chase Drieberg is a sports journalism student at Arizona State's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism covering Notre Dame Prep athletics.