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O’Brien: Notre Dame grinds past Thornton

It was a throwback Saturday afternoon in Harvey, with natural grass and wooden stands. The grass field is very rare around the area, but the wooden bleachers are virtually unheard of.

Visiting Notre Dame wasn’t fazed. The Dons took an early lead, absorbed a few big plays from Thornton and came away with a 29-13 victory.

“We were feeling [the grass] out when we first got here, it’s hilly,” Notre Dame senior Michael Valdez said. “I think we adjusted well on both sides of the ball, kept our feet under our bodies. That was the main thing.”

Valdez, who plays running back and defensive back, carried the ball 12 times for 90 yards. He also had a solid motivational assist earlier in the day.

“Miles [George] did a fantastic job,” Valdez said. “I called him “Mile” before the game and told him he couldn’t have the “S” until he scored a touchdown. He scored two.”

George was a workhorse, grinding up the grass for all four quarters to finish with 19 carries for 69 yards. He scored a three-yard and a 10-yard touchdown.

“We have five or six kids that can run the ball,” Notre Dame coach Mike Hennessey said. “We have a couple quick kids. Then we have a couple tougher kids. We did what we needed to do. We had a couple timely turn overs that helped us with field position.”

The Dons led 13-0 when Thornton quarterback Lamari Battle (15-for-26, 256 yards) connected with senior Taron Williams for an 85-yard TD pass midway through the second quarter. Battle struck again early in the fourth quarter when he completed a 28-yard pass to William Storey that brought the Wildcats to the Notre Dame 6. He scored on a keeper on the next play to cut the Dons’ lead to 21-13.

“We have some athletes,” Thornton coach Dontrell Jackson said. “We made some plays in the passing game but at the end of the day it’s the Midwest and you have to be able to run the football and we didn’t do a good job of that. We have to run the football and stop the run, that’s how you win games.”

Notre Dame, which relied on the run most of the game, put it away with a 27-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Tom Drabik (8-for-14, 58 yards) to senior Brendan Cravens.

“Cravens is one of the hardest workers on our team,” Valdez said. “He’s a small, scrawny guy so people aren’t going to expect him to make plays. When he does we get fired up, we love it.”

Jackson doesn’t see much home-field advantage with the natural grass.

“We are a team built on speed and we couldn’t get going with our speed because of the conditions,” Jackson said. “No excuses. They did a good job, they had to play on it too.”

It was a rough afternoon all around for Jackson.

“I had a hole in my pocket and I didn’t know,” Jackson said. “I lost 25 bucks. It’s been that kind of day.”