Two-Time TSSAA Champ Lausanne Pops Notre Dame's Bubble 41-13

Lynx RB Gray Scores 5 TDs, Rushes for 281 Yards In DII-2A Showdown

Saturday, December 2, 2017 - by Larry Fleming
Lausanne's Eric Gray rambles for yardage against Notre Dame on Saturday during their TSSAA Division II-2A state championship game in Cookeville. Gray, the classification's 2017 Mr. Football, scored five touchdowns and rushed for 281 yards in a 41-13 victory.
Lausanne's Eric Gray rambles for yardage against Notre Dame on Saturday during their TSSAA Division II-2A state championship game in Cookeville. Gray, the classification's 2017 Mr. Football, scored five touchdowns and rushed for 281 yards in a 41-13 victory.
- photo by Dennis Norwood

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – Lausanne junior Eric Gray has won the Division II-2A Mr. Football award two years running.

On Saturday, the hard-charging Gray scored five touchdowns, rushed for 281 yards and led the Lynx to a one-sided 41-13 victory over Notre Dame at Tucker Stadium and their second straight TSSAA state championship.

Gray’s touchdown jaunts covered 39, 35, 19, 12 and 44 – that’s 149 yards on five plays.

“He’s good,” said Notre Dame’s Cameron Wynn, who finished runner-up to Gray in the 2017 Mr. Football balloting. “That’s all I have to say about that.”

So, Gray, a junior now has back-to-back state titles.

And two straight Mr. Football awards.

What would like to do his senior year?

“Win it three times,” he said. “I’m blessed and honored to win it twice, but it would be nice to do something nobody has done. I don’t think anyone has won three.”

Notre Dame opened the night’s scoring less than two minutes into the game. Wynn’s 71-yard kickoff return set up the Irish at the Lynx’s 21. Wynn rushed twice to the Lausanne 9 and Dallas Brown went untouched to paydirt on the next play.

Unfortunately, the Lynx scored 41 straight points with Gray scoring five of the team’s six TDs. Nyle Love scored from the 3 as Lausanne tied the game at 7-7.

Notre Dame coach, when asked how much defensive focus was placed on Gray, said: “You look at the yardage, 3,000-plus yards, 43 touchdowns from that one player, If we coach like we’re supposed to, you better have a plan for that guy.”

With Gray running hog wild – he carried 25 times and everybody else had 10 – and enabling the Lynx to pile up 319 yards of their total 325 yards of offense, Lausanne scored 40 or more points for the eighth time this season.

In three Saturday games, six players turned in 100 or more rushing efforts.

Gray’s 281 wasn’t the best.

That belonged to Friendship Christian’s Jajuan Foutch, who riddled Donald Christian for 292 yards on 25 carries in the Division II-2A championship game. Foutch’s sterling performance didn’t come close to the record of 395 yards set by Beech’s Jalen Hurd in 2012.

The Irish gave up 40 points only once this season, and that was to Baylor in the season opener.

The Irish gave up 40 points only once, and that was to Baylor in the season opener.

“We know I’m dangerous with the ball,” Gray said. “So, they just kept giving it to me. They were riding their horse. We came in here with a lot of confidence and swagger. When we got up 20-7, the game was over. We know how to win here. It was their first time here; they didn’t know how to win it.

“We didn’t want another 12-9 game (the Lynx lost to Knox Webb by that score in the 2016 championship game. We wanted to beat somebody bad tonight.”

Gray, who scored six touchdowns in last week’s semifinal win over Battle Ground Academy, said his offensive linemen worked hard all year and the focus up front was directed at Irish defensive tackle Sam Stovall.

“That guy is a good lineman,” Gray said of Stovall. “We thought it would be pretty hard to run on them, but our guards and tackles said all week that big guy wasn’t going to lock us down. They were ready for Notre Dame’s defense.”

Stovall didn’t want his Notre Dame career to end this way and, like most of the other seniors, was emotional after the loss, and disappointed in the Irish’s collective performance.

“It was a historic season, a historic run,” he said. “We got here for the first time in our school’s history, but we played the absolute worst game of our lives and got dominated the whole time.

“They’re a good team, but we gave them more than they earned. We didn’t play fundamental football like we should have.”

The Irish’s senior class has helped the football program thrive under Fant’s leadership. Before Fant arrived Notre Dame had had only three previous trips to the semifinals. The 16 seniors on this year’s squad have played in three semifinals and now a championship game.

That’s why, after receiving a plaque and trophy, Fant told his players: “Keep your heads up. It has been a good ride. We did something no other Notre Dame team could do.”

It took a couple of series for Lausanne to settle into defending the Irish’s offense, but they quickly gained command and it was obvious the Lynx weren’t going to let Wynn, a Tennessee commitment, get on a roll.

Other than the opening kickoff return, Wynn didn’t have a lot to show for his 11 carries: he gained 12 yards, a 1.1-yard average. Jeffrey Watkins led Notre Dame with 63 yards on 17 tries and scored the game’s final TD on a 1-yard burst with 1:18 left to play. Trae Johnson gained 44 yards on eight carries.

Even with his struggles against the Lynx, Wynn wound up with 100 all-purpose yards, but in reality 71 came on the scintillating kickoff return.

“It was a good ride,” Wynn said of the Irish’s highly successful season – an 11-game winning streak sandwiched between opening and closing losses. “I think we could have changed some things for this game. When I got in the backfield, they kind of knew when I was going to run a bubble or whatever play it was. Maybe we could have used a spread or passed more.

“A couple of times I had their guy beat, but we didn’t throw the ball.”

The bottom line in Saturday’s game, played on a mild afternoon with little wind, was this: there is a reason Lausanne has won 27 straight games. The Lynx are good.

Notre Dame did, however, make some uncharacteristic mistakes. A poor snap almost cost the Irish the extra point their first TD.

They failed to convert a fourth-and-1 at Lausanne’s15-yard line. The Lynx immediately drove 85 yards on 12 plays and went up 14-7 on Love’s short TD run.

A terrible high snap on fourth-and-21 from the Lausanne 35 sailed over the punter’s head and Brown recovered the ball 30 yards behind him. Gary scored on the next play.

On the next fourth down, Brown, took the snap and threw a pass to Adam Marini, who couldn’t make the catch that would have been good enough for a first down.

Notre Dame’s Akil Sledge intercepted a pass on the play immediately after the flubbed fourth-down fake punt.

The Lynx went into halftime with 20-7 advantage and Gray kept finding the end zone with three more second-half TD runs.

“As soon as we started giving him more touches,” Fant said, “he had the kind of game we saw him having on film.”

Followers of football know one can’t put too much stock into time of possession for any game at any level. More often than not, that stat doesn’t provide a 2 + 2 = 4 result. In the title game, Notre Dame had the ball for 28 minutes and 36 seconds. Lausanne’s clock time was 17 minutes, 56 seconds.

And the Lynx won by three touchdowns.

Monroe Beard had eight tackles, two for loss, to lead the Irish defense.

The Lynx had three defenders with double-digit tackles: Richard Kinley (13), Cortez Love (12) and Joshua Crawford (10), who also registered two sacks and two tackles for loss.

 SCORING

Lausanne                  7 13 14 7 – 41

Notre Dame              7 0 0 6 – 13

First Quarter

ND – Dallas Brown 9 run (Hunter Hill kick), 10:48

LAU – Eric Gray 39 run (Isaac Weiss kick), 6:50

Second Quarter

LAU – Nyle Love 3 run (Weiss kick), 8:14

LAU – Gray 35 run (kick failed), 2:24

Third Quarter

LAU – Gray 19 run (Weiss kick), 8:39

LAU – Gray 12 run (Weiss kick), 4:38

Fourth Quarter

LAU – Gray 44 run (Weiss kick), 7:24

ND – Jeffrey Watkins 1 run (kick failed), 1:12

YARDSTICK 

                                                          LAU                ND

First Downs                                       15                    13

Rushes-Yds                                       35-319            52-135

Passing Yards                                  49                    47

Comp-Att-Int                                     4-6-1               9-18-0

Plys-Tot Yds                                      41-368            70-182

Fumbles-Lost                                    0-0                  3-1

Punts-Avg                                          3-36.0             4-36.5

Penalties-Yds                                    6-40                7-49

INDIVIDUALS

RUSHING – Lausanne: Eric Gray 25-281, Cortez Love 1-16, Devon Bodie 5-16, Nyle Love 3-9, Schyler Forrest 1-minus 3; Notre Dame: Jeffrey Watkins 17-63, Trea Johnson 8-44, Akil Sledge 5-32, Caleb Edwards 5-12, Cameron Wynn 11-12, Dallas Brown 1-9, Scooby Williams 1-6, Landon Allen 2-minus 3, Team 2-minus 40.

PASSING – Lausanne: Forrest 4-6-1-49; Notre Dame: Allen 8-14-0-37, Sledge 01-0-0, Team 0-1-0-0, Brown 0-1-0-0, Watkins 1-1-0-10.

RECEIVING – Lausanne: Jaylon Johnson 2-29, Bodie 2-20; Notre Dame: Wynn 4-17, Kolby McGowan 2-13, Brown 1-10, Watkins 1-6, Nolan Corbitt 1-1.

(Contact Larry Fleming at larryfleming44@gmail.com and on Twitter @larryfleming44)

Akil Sledge (24) of Notre Dame is pulled down by a Lausanne defender in Saturday's Division II-2A championship game at Tennessee Tech University. The Irish were overwhelmed by the Lynx, 41-13.
Akil Sledge (24) of Notre Dame is pulled down by a Lausanne defender in Saturday's Division II-2A championship game at Tennessee Tech University. The Irish were overwhelmed by the Lynx, 41-13.
- Photo2 by Dennis Norwood

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