Notre Dame’s Kareem Orr, one of the area’s top college prospects, showed his versatility Friday night while leading the Fighting Irish to a 34-20 non-district football victory over East Ridge at Raymond James Field.
Orr caught three touchdown passes, threw for one and had 121 yards of offense as the Irish leveled their 2014 record at 1-1. The Irish play at Chattanooga Christian next week.
“We worked Kareem at quarterback all summer,” Notre Dame coach Charles Fant said. “And he’s quite able to handle our offense, but having him out there as a receiver is really special.”
Orr’s scoring receptions covered 8, 65 and 6 yards, with the final two coming in the fourth quarter when Notre Dame held East Ridge (0-2) at bay. Orr caught six passes for 119 yards. He also threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Chris Hornsby in the second quarter to give the Irish a 14-10 lead.
Quarterback Alex Darras, who went 8-for-16 for 159 yards and an interception, hooked up with Orr on the 65-yard bomb on the Irish’s second play of the fourth period. Reece Robertson’s extra point kick was blocked and Notre Dame held a 27-13 lead with 10:12 left in the game.
The Pioneers answered with a 45-yard, three-play scoring drive set up by Monquel Hughes’ 49-yard kickoff return. Quarterback JoJo Tillery, who completed 16 of 28 passes for 178 yards and an interception, threw a short out pass and Hughes scampered into the end zone with a 38-yard scoring play that put East Ridge right back into the game at 27-20 with 8:31 left on the clock.
Less than three minutes later, the Darras-to-Orr combination clicked again, this time the scoring play covered 6 yards and produced the final 14-point margin of victory.
“Kareem is one of those guys that if you get him the ball he’ll make a play for you,” Darras said. “But our biggest thing is we have to play more as a team and not focus on one guy as much. We need to do a better job spreading the ball around and getting everybody incorporated into the offense.
“But getting our first win feels good. We didn’t play our best and we’ve got a lot to work on.”
East Ridge, which opens its District 6-AA schedule next week by hosting unbeaten Central (2-0), grabbed a 10-7 second-quarter lead on Gray Smith’s 37-yard field goal – the first of two for him in the game – and DeAngelo Johnson’s 3-yard run.
But the Irish came right back with a 54-yard, 12-play touchdown drive to regain the lead when Orr found Hornsby deep in the end zone with a 2-yard strike.
“I’ve worked at quarterback quite a bit,” Orr said. “On that play I felt they were going to collapse on the left side and I saw Chris open over the middle and just threw it to him.”
East Ridge’s Smith kicked another field goal, this one for 31 yards, as time ran out in the third quarter and trimmed the Irish’s lead to 14-13. The 38-yard scoring drive was set up by Seth Vaughn’s interception.
The Pioneers built on that momentum when John Engel recovered an onside kick to start the second half at Notre Dame’s 42. However, the threat fizzled when Notre Dame’s defense forced a punt.
East Ridge’s defense stiffened and forced Notre Dame to punt, but on first down the Irish’s Kealey Green intercepted a tipped Tillery pass and returned it 32 yards to the Pioneers’ 12.
Four plays later Banks scored from 3 yards out. Banks finished as the game’s leading rusher, gaining 83 yards on 13 carries.
Tillery passed for 345 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for one in last week’s 35-28 season-opening loss at Walker Valley. He’s now thrown for 523 yards and four touchdowns, yet the Pioneers have been unable to crack the win column.
“We had too many mistakes tonight,” Pioneers coach Tracy Malone said. “On three of Notre Dame’s four touchdown passes we had bad busted coverages and we had an interception go right through our hands.
“It’s the coaches’ fault. We’re not doing a real good job right now and nobody feels good being 0-2, especially when we came into the season with a lot of promise. We’ve also played two good football teams and we’ve still got a chance to be good.”
Notre Dame 7 7 7 13 — 34
East Ridge 0 13 0 7 — 20
ND — Kareem Orr 8 pass from Nicholas Coronis (Reece Robertson kick), 9:38
ER —FG Gray Smith 37, 11:55
ER – DeAngelo Johnson 3 run (Smith kick), 9:31
ND – Chris Hornsby 2 pass from Orr (Robertson kick), 4:25
ER – FG Smith 31, 0:00
ND — Auston Banks 3 run (Robertson kick), 7:13
ND — Orr 65 pass from Alex Darras (kick blocked), 10:12
ER – Monquel Hughes 38 pass from JoJo Tillery (Smith kick), 8:31
ND – Orr 6 pass from Darras (Robertson kick), 5:35
First Downs 9 11
Rushes-Yards 23-92 29-83
Passing Yards 169 178
Total Yards 261 261
Com.-Att.-Int. 10-18-1 16-28-1
Fumbles-Lost 3-1 1-1
Punts.-Avg. 6-32.7 6-28.8
Penalties-Yds. 15-91 5-37
RUSHING — Notre Dame: Auston Banks 13-83, William Montgomery 3-12, Coronis 1-minus 9, Alex Darras 3-minus 5, Team 3-minus 17; East Ridge: JoJo Tillery 18-34, DeAngelo Johnson 5-30, Dominique Millener 6-19.
PASSING — Notre Dame: Alex Darras 8-16-1 159, Nicholas Coronis 1-1-0 8, Orr 1-1-0 2; East Ridge: JoJo Tillery 16-28-1 178.
RECEIVING — Notre Dame: Orr 6-119; East Ridge: Andrew Mapp 3-53, Monquel Hughes 2-44, Darius Moore 2-25, Johnson 2-10, Trey Hubbard 1-6, Quasey Vinson 1-4.
(E-mail Larry Fleming at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @larryfleming44)