It didn't take long for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish to take charge Friday night in their season-opening football game against the visiting Grace Academy Golden Eagles.
Senior Nick Chambers, known more for his outstanding talent on the baseball diamond than the gridiron, scooped up the opening kickoff and raced 69 yards down the left sideline and the Irish were on their way with less than 15 seconds elapsed off the first-quarter clock.
It was that kind of evening as the Fighting Irish handed new head coach Charles Fant his first career victory with a 52-13 win over the Golden Eagles.
Chambers later scored another touchdown on a 21-yard pass from freshman quarterback Alex Darris, but it was sophomore Auston Banks who stole the show with three touchdowns as the Irish special teams scored three times on impressive returns.
While Chambers had the first to open the game, Banks scored his first TD on a 15-yard run while adding a beautiful 70-yard punt return and an 83-yard kickoff return for his other two scores.
The Golden Eagles actually won the statistical battle as they used 315 rushing yards to total 419 for the game as they finished with 17 first downs.
Notre Dame was almost as effective with 231 yards on the ground and another 112 through the air for a 343-yard total and 16 first downs, but Grace had five turnovers in the game, including four lost fumbles, as Notre Dame rolled to a 28-0 lead at the half and cruised to victory in the final 24 minutes.
"This is the end of a whole lot of hard work," Fant told his young team once the game ended. "Nobody believed in us, but we proved that we can do about anything we set our minds to.
"We got a bunch of guys hurt tonight and that worries me, but our offense was more efficient than it's been all fall. And we know that special teams is so important, but we never expected them to score three times tonight.
"I'm so proud to see these kids come out and perform so well. Our defense did a lot of bending, but we didn't break. When their quarterback started running downhill, we were in trouble, but those fumble recoveries made a big difference," Fant added.
Grace coach Bob Ateca was brief and to the point in his post-game comments.
"We did a terrible job of tackling and there were adjustments on defense that we didn't make. I'll take the blame for that. We also had way too many turnovers," Ateca said as his team gathered for his post-game meeting at midfield.
While the Irish piled up 231 yards rushing, Banks was the leader with 66 yards on 10 carries. Grayson Bruce came in later to gain 61 yards in 10 trips while Taylor Bankston was next with 55 yards in seven attempts.
Chambers was the leading receiver with 53 yards on two grabs, including the 21-yarder for a TD. Tim Barnes had three receptions for 35 yard while Josh Deocampo added 24 yards on two grabs.
Quarterback Josh Smith was the sparkplug for Grace as he led the Golden Eagle rushers with 145 yards on 15 carries. Will Slack finished with 131 yards on 16 carries, including a 68-yard scamper midway through the first quarter that unfortunately ended with a fumble that Christian Captain recovered at the Notre Dame 8.
Drew Shumaker was the leading receiver with one catch for 68 yards, but it went for a touchdown near the end of the third quarter.
Darris came off the bench to complete seven of 10 passes for 112 yards, but he was even better with the kicking duties as he booted all seven extra points and a 25-yard field goal late in the third quarter.
While Captain had the first fumble recovery for Notre Dame, Sam Cromer later covered a pair of bobbles while Ricky Ballard had an interception for the winners.
Both of these teams will be at home next Friday with Grace hosting Cannon County and Notre Dame facing McMinn Central.
GRACE ACADEMY 0 0 13 0 -- 13
NOTRE DAME 14 14 10 14 -- 52
ND -- Nick Chambers 69 kickoff return (Alex Darris kick), 11:46 left in the first;
ND -- Auston Banks 15 run (Darris kick), 6:08 left in first;
ND -- Banks 70 punt return (Darris kick), 5:36 left in second;
ND -- Tim Barnes 21 pass from Darris (Darris kick), 2:41 left in second;
G -- Josh Smith 54 run (run failed), 10:34 left in third;
ND -- Banks 83 kickoff return (Darris kick), 10:18 left in third;
ND -- Darris 25 field goal; 3:11 left in third;
G -- Drew Shumaker 68 pass from Smith (J.R. Haley kick), 0:51.1 left in third;
ND -- Chambers 21 pass from Darris (Darris kick), 10:24 left in fourth;
ND -- Ricky Ballard 8 run (Darris kick), 1:59 left in fourth.
(Email John Hunt at firstname.lastname@example.org)