UTICA, NY – It’s been, to say the least, a rough week for Notre Dame senior wide receiver Patrick Espinosa. While he and the rest of the Jugglers were off in Western New York facing off against Bishop Timon last Friday, Espinosa’s grandfather passed away. What made matters worse was the fact that his birthday would have been this Saturday, when Espinosa would be playing against his grandfather’s former employers in Mount Markham.
While Espinosa did not have the best game on a sweltering day at Brother McCarthy Stadium (catching only two passes for 31 yards), he made sure he gave his late grandfather a loving tribute.
“I told Pat to score a touchdown for his grandfather,” Angela Espinosa, Patrick’s mother, said. “I don’t know if I believe in coincidences, [but] I believe it was a sign he was here.”
Not only did Espinosa score a touchdown in loving tribute, it would end up being the game-winner in a nail-biting 42-35 victory for the Jugglers. Notre Dame would outscore the Mustangs 21-7 in the final quarter and had to endure a furious final drive to secure head coach Gennaro Scampone’s first home win. As a matter of fact, three of the final five drives in the quarter would result in touchdowns.
“We just had to play our roles, every man,” Espinosa said of that furious fourth quarter. “We told everyone to get the job done. I could have played better, but our quarterback [senior Treijen Garrett] put everyone on his back and helped us win.” Garrett, in one of the bigger roles for the Jugglers on Saturday, ran for two touchdowns and threw for another two, including the the game-tying touchdown to Zach Brush.
“What did they do well?” Mount Markham head coach Loren Winegard said with a shrug. “Number four.”
Unfortunately for the Jugglers, the visitors came ready to play and were ready to solidify their standing atop the Class C East. Helped along by the arm of senior Nick Mondore and a timely illegal substitution penalty), the Mustangs were able to dominate through the air on their first possession. Mondore was able to use a bruising running attack, plus big passes of 47 and 16 yards (the latter a dump pass to Case in the middle of the field) to set the Mustangs up with an early 7-0 lead.
“[Mondore’s] the smartest person on the team, smarter than some of the coaches even,” Winegard said. “He kept us alive all day today.”
The Jugglers would use the opposite approach: work quickly and efficiently, and they did so to perfection on their first drive. “I told them early on, you have to keep battling,” Scampone said “We knew one of our strong guys was going to break through.” That strong guy on the first drive was sophomore Mike Washington, who took advantage of good field position on the kickoff to break a 62-yard run down the right sideline to tie the score at seven.
That was where the would stay into the second quarter, but not for long, Garrett would lead Notre Dame on a courageous march down the field, mixing runs with passes effortlessly. In the end, it would be the senior giving the Jugglers the lead just 57 seconds into the second quarter, with a 12-yard plunge into the middle of the Mustang defense for a touchdown.
On the other side, Mount Markham used a more methodical approach, chewing up the clock with a 16-play drive that ate up almost eight minutes. This time, Mondore would utilize the running game to massive success, as runners Alphonso Linen-Holmes and Hunter Coffin picking up the lion’s share of the yardage on the ground. In the end, though, Mondore managed to tie up the score by himself, stretching for those last two yards to tie the game at 14, though it didn’t end without some controversy, as the ball seemed to shake loose before Mondore reached for the end zone. However, the referees ruled him down by contact and the touchdown stood.
The Mustangs took the lead into the half just two minutes later, as a botched punt gave them the ball deep inside Notre Dame territory. This time, they just needed two plays to score, and senior Everett Kelly would be the lucky recipient, rumbling seven yards around the left side to give the Mustangs the lead heading into the locker rooms.
Washington added a touchdown early in the second half on some offensive confusion by the Mustangs. Hampered by an intentional grounding penalty, Mondore threw what he thought was an incomplete pass. However, the whistle had not blown, leaving Washington to scoop up the live ball and tie up the score on a 20-yard run. “We talk a lot about coaching situations,” Winegard said of the unpredictability of the game, exemplified by Washington’s scoop-and-score. “A lot of stuff we prepped for during the week, but a lot of stuff today you couldn’t have prepped for.”
The two teams would trade punts soon after before Mount Markham lit up the scoreboard once again. Using runs of 15 and 23 yards and a pass of 18 yards, Mondore would find the end zone from three yards out for his second rushing touchdown of the day and a 28-21. That touchdown set off a flurry of offense in thr fourth quarter. On the ensuing drive, Garrett would find Brush on four different occasions (one called back due to a penalty), amassing 31 yards in total. The final one resulted in the score evening again, on an 11-yard pass from Garrett to Brush. In all, the senior wide receiver picked up 36 yards total, while Garrett and Isiah Czarnecki took them deep into Mustang territory.
Notre Dame would grab the lead right back after their defense, led by Garrett and fellow senior Thomas Roefaro, forced a turnover on downs in the red zone. This time, the Mount Markham defense got a steady diet of Treijen Garrett, as the quarterback was responsible for 57 of the Jugglers’ 82 yards on the next drive. “Not many players can go out there and win like that,” Scampone said of his team’s fighting spirit, especially in the waning moments of the game. “That turned our boys into men today.”
The game was not over yet, though, as the Mustangs turned a 70-yard kickoff return by senior Jeromie Wheatley into a touchdown in just six seconds. Linen-Holmes broke tackle after tackle for 14 of the hardest yards of his career, but there was still just under three minutes left to go: plenty of time for Notre Dame to clinch the game for good, and Espinosa, who had only made one catch for seven yards and bobbled several more along the way, was going to make sure the Jugglers won the day, with a little nudging from his coach.
“[Coach Scampone] told me to keep my head up,” Espinosa said. “Eventually, football will be good to you.”
On that drive, it certainly started out well enough, with a long run by Garrett and smashing runs by Washington. Brush would even get into the act as well, making an acrobatic catch worthy of Odell Beckham, Jr. to put the Jugglers within striking distance. That was when Espinosa would get the chance to make his grandfather proud. With under a minute to go, Garrett would fire a short pass to Espinosa and with several blocks ahead of him, ran almost untouched into the end zone, pushed along by the wild cheering of the Notre Dame faithful.
“I was overwhelmed with joy,” Patrick’s mother said after the game. “I immediately started crying.”
There was just one problem: there was still 42 seconds left on the clock, and the Mustangs were determined to use every single one of them to send the game into overtime. They were helped along by Notre Dame’s kickoff flying out of bounds, which gave Mount Markham 42 seconds to go 65 yards. Mondore would try to put the team on his back one more time, launching passes of five, 14 and 29 yards to put them within striking distance as time ran out. However, a face mask penalty on the Jugglers would allow for one untimed down to tie it up from just inside the ten-yard line. Unfortunately for Mondore, his pass lofted over the head of his receiver and was intercepted by Sean Moore to end the game.
Despite the loss, Winegard was still proud of the way his Mustangs fought to the end. “I told them, you guys were lucky, playing in such an important game like this,” he said. “We just missed a couple of tackles, a couple penalties here and there hurt us. Kudos to [Notre Dame].”
With the win, Coach Scampone notched his first victory, though not without some heart-racing action near the end. “That’s another notch in the belt for us,” Scampone said of the untimed play. “We just had to keep tackling. I’m more happy for the team and the way they battled today.”
And certainly, especially with his last minute heroics, Espinosa’s grandfather is looking down on his grandson and smiling.
Notre Dame Jugglers 42, Mount Markham Mustangs 35
Jugglers 7 7 7 21 42
Mustangs 7 14 7 7 35
MM – Mackenzie Case 16 yard pass from Nick Mondore (Brett Yager kick), 7:45
ND – Mike Washington 62 yard run (Thomas Roefaro kick), 6:37
ND – Treijen Garrett 12 yard run (Roefaro kick), 11:03
MM – Mondore 2 yard run (Yager kick), 3:01
MM – Everett Kelly 7 yard run (Yager kick), :41
ND – Washington 20 yard fumble return (Roefaro kick), 7:26
MM – Mondore 3 yard run (Yager kick), 1:42
ND – Zachary Brush 11 yard pass from Garrett (Roefaro kick), 10:49
ND – Garrett 23 yard run (Roefaro kick), 2:40
MM – Alphonso Linen-Holmes 14 yard run (Yager kick), 2:46
ND – Patrick Espinosa 24 yard pass from Garrett (Roefaro kick), :42