BATAVIA — Coming off of three straight wins to start the season, including back-to-back shutouts, Notre Dame was looking to get past Pembroke on Homecoming on Saturday to set up an undefeated matchup with Alexander on Friday.
But the spirited Dragons were having none of it and everything that went right for the Fighting Irish to start the season went wrong this week.
Pembroke forced seven Notre Dame turnovers, including four interceptions from junior defensive back Trevor Vaughn, while Nick Clark broke free for the Dragons only big run of the day midway through the fourth quarter as they stunned the Fighting Irish 19-14.
“We came out here and gave them a challenge I don’t think they were expecting,” Vaughn said. “We were going off what everybody said about us, that we’re not a good team and that we’re not going to be good this season. And today we just had to finish.”
Vaughn picked off Notre Dame quarterback Tim Klotzbach twice, while he also intercepted Collin McCulley and running back Gabe Macdonald on trick plays late in the game to lead a Dragons defense that shut down the Fighting Irish all afternoon.
Pembroke held Notre Dame to just 70 yards rushing on 30 carries, with leading rusher Macdonald — who missed most of the second quarter with an injury to his arm — was limited to just 47 yards on 13 carries.
“Coach (Ray) Stoldt did a great job and had everything broken down as far as their formations and what they were going to do and if we could contain them, that was probably the best thing,” Pembroke head coach Alan Miano said. “And we had guys stepping up all over the place, whether it was in the defensive backfield or the defensive line.”
The Dragons, meanwhile, didn’t get much going against the Notre Dame defense but they were able to do enough late.
Down 14-13 and following a Fighting Irish turnover when Klotzbach was stripped of the ball before he could even had it off to Macdonald, the Dragons were able to strike. On a third-and-10 Clark took a toss right and got 13 and on the very next play he broke free up the middle and cut out right untouched for a 25-yard touchdown that put Pembroke up for good at 19-14 with 8:29 remaining after the PAT run failed.
Notre Dame would have two chances to take the lead in the final four minutes, the first after Jed Reese — who was all over the field — obliterated Clark on a pitch and forced a fumble, which he recovered in Pembroke territory.
Two plays later, though, McCulley was picked on an end-around pass.
The Fighting Irish got the ball back with under two minutes left and got to the Pembroke 40 but Vaughn would end it with his fourth interception of the game with 33 seconds left to play.
Despite the offense committing seven turnovers, the Notre Dame defense did all it could to keep the Irish in the game.
Notre Dame held Pembroke to 113 total yards and forced four turnovers of its own but was unable to capitalize. The Fighting Irish held the Dragons to 97 yards on the ground on 33 carries.
Colby Cerasani led the way for Pembroke with 65 yards on 22 carries, while Clark finished with 36 yards on nine totes.
Pembroke’s defense would set the tone early.
On Notre Dame’s third possession of the game — following a Cody Henry interception — Teddy Pintabona picked up a fumbled pitch attempt at the Pembroke 40 and returned it 60 yards for a score to put the Dragons up 7-0 after the Tyler Keller PAT with 4:46 left in the first.
“It started with that scoop and score on defense and that gave the kids some confidence,” Miano said. “They just played as a team and made huge plays all over the place.”
On Pembroke’s next possession, Henry broke through the line and stripped quarterback David Colby and Austin Haller would recover at the Pembroke 44.
Notre Dame proceeded to go 44 yards on seven plays and cut the lead to 7-6 early in the second quarter when Reese took a pitch left and scored from five yards out; the two-point conversion pass failed.
Another Fighting Irish turnover, though, on their next possession would set the Dragons up as Pintabona returned another fumbled pitch to the Notre Dame 29.
Six plays later, Cerasani punched it in from three yards out to put Pembroke up 13-6 at the half.
“We talked about playing with a little bit more emotion and who would be the guy up there on those big-down situations that would try to get everyone else fired up,” Miano said. “And we had some guys that were stepping up and I give all the credit to the kids.”
Even with the lead, Pembroke had just 44 yards of offense in the first two quarters.
It was then Notre Dame’s turn to take advantage of a turnover on Pembroke’s second drive of the second half.
With 7:19 left in the third, Reese recovered a Dragons fumble at their own 25 yard-line. Five plays later, Klotzbach kept it up the middle for a five-yard score to put the Fighting Irish up 14-13 with 4:35 left in the third after a Klotzbach to Lucas Colarco two-point conversion pass.
The Fighting Irish, though, just couldn’t put it away and Pembroke wasn’t being denied the upset.
Pembroke moved to 2-3 and will look to move to .500 next week at Canisteo-Greenwood, while Notre Dame (3-1) will have the daunting task at playing at No. 2 state-ranked Alexander.
“It was a big win and we talk about trying to get better every day to get better by the end of the season,” Miano said.
Certainly disappointed with his team’s performance, Notre Dame coach Joe Zambito praised Pembroke’s efforts following the game.
“We told our guys all week that Pembroke was a big physical team and I have a lot of respect for coach Miano,” Zambito said. “I take the entire blame for this loss. They were better prepared than we were. You cannot turn the ball over seven times and expect to win. They had 35 yards at the half and we were losing. We were definitely flat today. Lots of distractions all week long. Gabe getting hurt really cost us as well as not playing Jayson Rinehart do to a bee sting by his eye yesterday. Penalties killed us as well. Hats of to Pembroke great win for their program.”
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