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The Bulldogs did not want it to be over Friday.
So they took care of business.
Trailing Notre Dame (5-5) 28-7 at halftime, the top-seeded Bulldogs (10-0) scored 28 unanswered second-half points to rally for an improbable 35-28 victory over the Dons before a delirious crowd at Bulldog Stadium on the campus.
Senior quarterback Noel Gaspari, who finished 21-of-35 for 301 yards, helped engineer the comeback by throwing four second-half touchdown passes—three of them to 6'6" senior tight end Cole Gardner.
Gardner, who caught six passes for 111 yards, provided a personal human highlight reel during a sequence early in the fourth quarter. Facing a third-and-13 play from the Dons’ 28-yard line, Gardner hauled in a pass from Gaspari and literally dragged two defenders a couple extra yards for a first down.
“I just didn’t want to be done,” Gardner told Batavia Patch after the game. “I remember how I felt last year after the , and I didn’t want that feeling again. I did not want it to end.”
On the very next play, Gaspari found Gardner over the middle for a 13-yard touchdown that tied the score at 28-28 with 10:32 remaining.
After the Bulldogs’ defense forced a Notre Dame punt, the Gaspari-to-Gardner connection proved golden once again, this time for a 13-yard touchdown that gave Batavia its first lead of the night, 35-28, with 6:14 left.
Players did not hesitate to give each other hugs on the field as they continued to advance and finally gain the lead Friday.
At halftime, Batavia coach Dennis Piron still believed despite watching his defense get burned repeatedly by Notre Dame senior quarterback Nick Pieruccini.
Pieruccini completed 16 of his 17 first-half passes for 174 yards and three touchdowns, two to senior wide receiver Joe Parrinello.
“Their quarterback is a wonderful football player,” Piron said of Pieruccini. “He broke containment on us a few times. Their quarterback kept working and guys got open. But penalties also killed us and kept some drives alive, we fumbled the ball twice, and we punted once.
“We never thought they could stop us,” Piron said. “That wasn’t it. We were making mistakes. At halftime, the seniors talked to one another and basically said, ‘you’ve got two halves of football left or we’re done, or you could have another week to play—it’s your choice.’ And the kids came through.”
Notre Dame scored touchdowns on four of its first five possessions, stunning the Bulldogs by jumping out to leads of 21-0 and 28-7.
Brian Regal (five receptions, 78 yards) opened the scoring with his 19-yard catch of a Pieruccini pass with 5:48 left in the first quarter, before sophomore tailback Chris James raced 79 yards for a touchdown on the Dons’ next possession to make it 14-0.
Pieruccini finished the night completing 19-of-25 passes for 250 yards.
“That’s the way he’s been all season,” Notre Dame coach Mike Hennessey said. “We’ve been on his back the entire time. Nick’s a tremendous player.”
'The Stuff For Legends'
Batavia’s defense limited the Dons to 88 total yards in the second half, and sophomore Mike Moffatt’s interception in the end zone with 4:56 remaining helped seal the decision for the Bulldogs.
“I thought we played to the end,” said Hennessey. “We never quit. Our kids did a great job.”
As did the Bulldogs, who will continue their run hosting Lake Forest next weekend in second-round action.
“Wow, this is the stuff for legends,” said Piron said. “I told them the story could be what an unbelievable comeback that Batavia made, or that falls in the first round to a 5-4 team. I don’t think they liked the sound of that.”
It's not over yet.
Stay tuned to batavia.patch.com throughout the week for confirmation of their Round 2 kickoff time, date and other gameday info.
Regular Season (9-0), (6-0)