Notre Dame’s playoff hopes rest on run defense against Carmel

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NILES — It’s been nine years since the Notre Dame football team last failed to qualify for the postseason, and even longer — 16 years — since the Dons last defeated Carmel, according to the IHSA website.

At least one of those streaks will end this week.

Notre Dame (4-4) needs to beat the Corsairs in Mundelein on Friday in order to become playoff eligible. The game is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.

“It’s always a big game,” said Notre Dame senior Brian Brand, a starter at defensive end and offensive tackle. “The coaches really stress it a lot. … They always really want to win against Carmel, but we don’t really treat them much different than any other week. We’ve just got to go in and get [our] business done.”

Despite the program’s lack of success against the Corsairs, Notre Dame coach Mike Hennessey echoed Brand in that nothing changes in terms of preparation. The Dons’ coaches watch film and game plan for Carmel just as they would for any other team.

The Corsairs give the Dons a lot to prepare for, defensively. Carmel (5-3) uses an option offense and runs the ball the vast majority of the time. It’s no secret what’s coming, but the option attack makes it imperative for the Dons’ defensive linemen and linebackers to stay focused and execute their assignments on each play.

“You just have to play hard-nosed football,” senior outside linebacker Michael Bicknell said. “We’ve been pretty good against the run this year, so I think we just know that we’re going to have to play really physical.”

A blown assignment or a missed tackle can result in a big play, especially against a team led by junior offensive lineman Sean Foster, junior tight end Noah Turner and sophomore fullback Rondel Jamison. Foster has more than 10 Division I offers, and Turner has offers from Illinois and Indiana. Jamison ran for 186 yards and three touchdowns against Marian Central last week.

The Corsairs have scored at least 20 points in each game this season, but Bicknell, Brand and junior middle linebacker Matt Szyska all expressed belief that Notre Dame’s run defense could slow down Carmel’s rushing attack. Szyska was the most outspoken about it.

“We as a defense are confident that we can shut down any run game they show at us,” Szyska said. “For us, we’re pumped about playing Carmel because knowing that they run the ball more, we know we can shut them down.”

Hennessey added that the key to the game is stopping Carmel on first down.

“If you put them in a second-and-long situation, then it takes away the idea of running the option and puts some doubt in their mind,” Hennessey said. “That’s what we have to do. We have to have great first-down defense and minimize their possessions.”

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