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NDGP outlasts Falcons

For most of the first half Friday night it was hard to tell which team was playing its first game of this strange season and which team was on making its 2020 debut.

By the end of the first half Notre Dame’s experience and depth prevailed as the Crusaders beat Salisbury 51-22 in the Falcons’ season opener in Green Pond.

“Our effort was absolutely there,” said Salisbury head coach Andy Cerco. “It’s just a matter of where we are at in comparison to the team that we played. This is a different year. Their team had an opportunity to play two games and a scrimmage prior to seeing us. We had a scrimmage. That’s not an excuse, it’s just the reality of our situation. Our timing is different than theirs.”

Notre Dame started playing three weeks ago with nonleague games against Pine Grove and Muhlenberg before opening the six-game Colonial League schedule against Salisbury. The Falcons had one scrimmage before Friday’s game.

The Falcon defense held strong early in the game, stopping a potent Notre Dame offense on its first three possessions, including one three-and-out.

The Crusaders gained some field position on every possession and after their third drive stalled they downed a punt at the Salisbury 1-yard line with just seven seconds left in the first quarter.

The Falcons took over and drove 92 yards to the 7-yard line, but the ND didn’t let them in the end zone. Salisbury took 7:02 off the clock with the 17-play drive, but came away without any points.

“Being able to finish that drive in your first game,” said Cerco, “it’s not an excuse, it’s just a matter of fact, there are certain things that you’re just not ready to do at that point in time.”

The Crusaders got the ball back with five minutes left in the first half and marched 80 yards for the game’s first score.

The Falcons responded quickly. On the first play of their next possession, quarterback Quintin Stephens found receiver Chad Parton for an 80-touchdown. Stephens ran in the extra point to give his team an 8-7 lead.

Notre Dame came right back with a six-play touchdown drive to go ahead for good, 14-8 with 46 seconds left in the first half. After a quick Salisbury three-and-out the Crusaders added a field goal for a 17-8 at halftime.

A Salisbury turnover on the first play of the second half led to a Crusader touchdown and a 23-8 ND lead.

The Falcons answered with a five-play touchdown drive that saw Parton catch three passes for a total of 80 yards, including his 49-yard TD catch that closed the gap to 23-16 with 8:03 left in the third quarter.

After that, ND scored on its next three possessions, including Matt Frauen’s fourth and fifth touchdowns of the game, to increase its lead to 44-16. The Crusader senior running back gained 230 yards on 27 carries in the game.

Salisbury got one more score, a 76-yard TD run from Chase Fenstermaker before the Crusaders added one more score with just over three minutes left.

Parton finished with 169 receiving yards on five catches and 20 rushing yards on five attempts. Stephens ran for 57 yards in the game, while completing nine of 22 passes for 187 yards.

On defense, Salisbury’s top tacklers in the game were Fenstermaker (11), Parton (11), Toby Linn (7) and Matt Butz (7).

While the Crusaders depth and their expeirene in early-season games was certainly a factor, Cerco was pleased with his team’s performance.

“We scored a lot of points and we did a lot of good things offensively and defensively,” he said. “Defensively, in the first half I thought our kids did a fantastic job. Not that in the second half they didn’t, but we have mid 30s on our roster. When our guys are out there that long, once we start getting a couple kids nicked we’re trying to find guys we want to put in the game and guys we want to put in are over on the training table. It’s just a byproduct of where are in our program.”

Regardless of the outcome, Cerco was happy to be back on the field with his players, even if the season had to start a bit late this year.

“It was fantastic,” Cerco said. “It was a great opportunity. Our kids were excited. There were parts of it that were a little bit different. They didn’t really say anything, but you could see the look on their face.

“They learned and adjusted and that’s what we’re doing right now in our program, in our school and in our society. We’re learning and adjusting and that’s how we have to take it, that’s what we have to do.”

PRESS FILE PHOTO Chad Parton caught five passes for 169 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the Falcons' season-opening game against Notre Dame (Green Pond).