Notre Dame’s dominant defense handles Montini, raises expectations for a special season

The No. 10 Dons, led by a stout defense, knocked off No. 12 Montini 28-7 to improve to 6-0.

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Notre Dame’s Julian Schurr (2) celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the game against Montini.

Notre Dame’s Julian Schurr (2) celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the game against Montini.

Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

Big words are being tossed around in Niles. The general football public assumed the first year without superstar Ty Gavin would be a rough transition for Notre Dame. That isn’t the case.

Instead, the fans are thinking about making reservations in DeKalb, the coaching staff is talking about having a special group and star linebacker Anthony Ranallo is wishing perennial power Loyola was on Notre Dame’s regular season schedule.

The No. 10 Dons, led by a stout defense, knocked off No. 12 Montini 28-7 on Friday to improve to 6-0.

Sometimes the numbers do tell the story. Notre Dame’s defense, led by Ranallo, is staking a claim as one of the area’s best units.

“They played great throughout the game, they’ve played great throughout the season,” Notre Dame coach Mike Hennessey said. “They are fast, tough kids that are playing really good football, really smart football.”

The Dons are allowing just eight points per game. They shut out St. Patrick in Week 5 and handled two ranked teams, Marist and Providence nearly as easily.

Ranallo is at the heart of it all.

“Anthony is our leader,” Hennessey said. “When Anthony says something things get done and you have to have a guy like that. The kids believe in him and that is what it comes down to at times.”

Notre Dame quarterback Anthony Sayles, who started last season as a sophomore, has taken a major step forward this season.

“I’ve grown from last year,” Sayles said. “I have it programmed in my mind that I have to do whatever I can to get zero or [gain] yards on [every play]. Last year made me ready for these type of moments, to stay poised.”

Sayles was 12-for-23 passing for 135 yards. He had 12 carries for 40 yards and one touchdown.

“He’s gotten so much better since last year, just mentally and physically,” Dons running back Julian Schurr said. “Knowing what to do, just a better football IQ.”

Schurr, generously listed as 5-7, 160-pounds, is a confounding football player. His teammates call him the pinball, which does account for the way he bounces off defenders, but doesn’t do justice to his speed.

“I’m sure when teams watch film they see me making plays and assume it is because the defense messed up, that I’m not that good,” Schurr said. “So every week it is my point to prove that what they see on film is the truth.”

Schurr had 23 carries for 100 yards. He scored on a five-yard run in the third quarter and a darting 14-yard run in the fourth quarter.

“I’ve expected that from him since the first time I saw him run a football,” Sayles said. “Since [Gavin] left we’ve talked about how we had to step up. That was a big piece to lose and we are doing a good job filling it.”

Montini’s touchdown came on a 40-yard pass from Deontay Bell to Nate Muersch. Bell didn’t play in the second half. Broncos coach Mike Bukovsky said Bell was nursing an injury heading into the game, toughed it out for two quarters but couldn’t manage any more.

The Broncos (4-2, 1-1 CCL/ESCC Green) tried two different quarterbacks in the second half. Bukovsky doesn’t expect Bell to miss any more time.

Notre Dame (6-0, 2-0) faces Leo next week and then wraps up the regular season with a showdown against Nazareth in Week 8 and a trip to St. Rita in Week 9.

Expectations have been raised.

“We love this new conference, loved the merger.” Ranallo said. “This is the first time we’ve ever played Montini. It is a great statement win. We wish we got to play Loyola.”

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